Posts Tagged ‘thank you’

What I’ve learned in a year at the Food Hamper Program

May 10, 2013

After almost exactly a year of working here, today is my last day at the Food Hamper Program. I am sad to leave the staff and volunteers here as I’ve formed some great friendships and learned a lot about the KW community, but I’m looking forward to new adventures, including travelling this summer and going back to school in September.

building_outside

I’ve learned a lot in the year that I’ve been here. Here are some things I’ll take away from my time.

There is no one kind of person who needs food assistance

I’ve learned that there is no one kind of person that comes to a food bank—there is a huge diversity of people who need food assistance, and they have taken many paths to get here. Many people face barriers to finding work and thus having an adequate income due to discrimination. Perhaps they identify as transgender, are a recent immigrant or refugee, or have a disability. I’ve learned that no one is on social assistance because they’re simply ‘lazy,’ but that there are a multitude of reasons people live in poverty, ranging from the kinds of jobs available to a lack of affordable childcare to health problems. Each person has their own story of why they are at the food hamper program.

The way we treat people living on low income needs to change…now.

I’ve learned that the way social assistance is set up helps no one, and a dollar added to social assistance is more than a dollar saved in other areas. I’ve learned that poverty and health are so closely intertwined that I’m not sure you can talk about one without talking about the other.  Most importantly to me, I’ve learned that eliminating poverty is the logical thing to do, not only from an ethical but from an economic standpoint. It makes far more sense to give people an adequate income and save money elsewhere in the system, especially in the health care and justice sectors. I have hope that others think this way. Though there is a long road ahead when it comes to poverty elimination, there are a lot of dedicated people making very good cases as to why poverty should be a priority for all levels of government moving forward.

I’ve learned all about foods I never knew existed

We receive all kinds of food donations. Before working here I had never seen chayote squash, bitter melon, chinese long beans, or lychee fruit. Now I could tell you what their main nutritional qualities are and how to cook them!

I am disappointed to leave the House of Friendship because it’s an organization I believe in. I’m proud of that the organization has decided to speak up on important issues, and advocate for a more just society. I decided to work here in the first place because, though I don’t believe food aid should have to exist, the program’s philosophy was in line with my own. I believe people coming in for food aid should not be policed, or asked invasive questions about their household finances. I’ve been lucky to be able to visit other House of Friendship programs and learn about the community building and advocacy that goes on at our community centres and residential programs as well.

I’ve been so privileged in the past year to work with dedicated staff and volunteers who believe in the program like I do, and who are working every day to create the kind of community they want to be a part of. I’ll miss it here.

Advertisements

Volunteer Spotlight: Betty

May 8, 2013

Betty

Betty is one of our regular Monday volunteers, along with her husband John. For them, volunteering here is a family affair—their son Matt is the volunteer coordinator, and their daughter Bethany used to work at intake. Betty is clearly dedicated to the work we do here. You can find her doing whatever is needed, either getting her hands dirty sorting donations that come in or packing hampers. She also has great friendships with fellow volunteers—one week she hears someone say they like lasagne, and the next week she brought in a whole lasagne for everyone to share!  I managed to tear her away from sorting bread to sit down and ask her a few questions.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I heard about it through my son Matt, the volunteer coordinator at the food hamper program. One of my friends also used to live in Sunnydale and she told me all about the community centre there and the House of Friendship.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

It makes me feel good to help people, and I enjoy working with the other volunteers. Everyone here is kind of like family.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

I like sorting through food orders we get from Loblaw’s, I like doing it all. Here we took a break to laugh about what we call the yogurt test—when we get tubs of yogurt in our Loblaw’s order many didn’t survive the trip. To see whether or not they’re ok, you have to squeeze them. If they’re fine then you stay clean, otherwise you could get covered in yogurt!

How has volunteering impacted your life?

I look forward to Mondays! It’s fun—I even come by on other days if Matt needs some extra help. I feel like I’m helping people when I’m here.

Is there one experience you’ve had here that you remember?

It really affects me if it’s someone’s first hamper—I’ve had experiences with men and women where they cry when they come in. It really touches me. I usually give them a hug and try to give some words of encouragement.

Are there any other programs that you are or have volunteered with?

I used to volunteer with Live and Learn at the House of Friendship, with mom’s and young kids. I used to babysit full time, now I only do two days per week, but I love working with children. I also volunteer with our kids program and Sunday school at church.

What kind of activities or hobbies do you enjoy when you aren’t working or volunteering?

I love doing jigsaw puzzles, sewing, and cooking. I cook for the people who run our kids program at church once per week! I also sing in the Laurier choir with my sisters, that’s just something I do for me.

We’re glad that Betty makes time in her schedule to volunteer here, along with all the other things she’s involved with. She’s a big help because she enjoys doing so many different things. Thanks, Betty, for including all of us at food hampers in your extended family!

National Volunteer Week: how far have we walked together?

April 26, 2013

Imagine you are sitting in your family room watching your favorite show on TV.  It’s the commercial break, and your stomach rumbles.  It’s been a long day at work and you’re tired.  Is it worth it to walk all the way to the Kitchen and fix yourself a snack?  We’ve all been in the state where your will and motivation to get up and get moving is definitely lacking.  Sometimes it’s hard to fight the inertia of exhaustion.

Do you have a child?  If so, you’ve probably found yourself in that horrible situation where you’ve gone for a walk, and their favorite stuffed animal, which was clutched tightly in their arms at the start of the journey, has somehow been left behind along the path.  I’m sure you’ve spent many a frantic moment at the grocery store looking for your child’s favorite stuffed animal that they simply would not leave at home.  How far would you go to find something for someone you love like your child?

When your little one grows up will they remember you going the extra mile? Probably they will later in life, if they have children of their own and they’ll understand how you would gladly go an extra 1000 miles for your family in a heart-beat.

Now, how many miles would you walk, metaphorically or otherwise for a stranger?

Last year, our volunteers packed over 33,000 hampers for families in need. Now that is a lot of food assistance going out on a daily basis. A while back at the food hamper program, a few of us were trying to think of ways to help people wrap their heads around how many hampers 33,000 really is.  As we’ve written about in the past, understanding big numbers can be difficult. How can we possibly communicate to volunteers how much work they’ve done as a team, especially during National Volunteer Week?

A picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, and one way we thought of to help us share the significant amount of work our volunteers accomplish was a simple racetrack, on which a mascot (chosen by popular vote) would race around. So how does this work? Well every time someone packs a hamper here, they walk in a circle around some central shelves and tables, shaped like a race track. The starting line is the meat freezers, and once they get in motion, they go on to potatoes, vegetables, soup, pasta, race past the tomato sauce, fruit, peanut butter, rice, beans, baby items, bread, then coolers stocked with milk, yogurt, juice, and extra items. The finish line is crossed once they get to the window where they pass the hamper off to the family who is receiving it. We measured how far a walk (or run) it is from the beginning of the circuit to the end, and it measures approximately 20 metres. When you multiply 20 metres by how many hampers we pack, our volunteers have traveled a long distances to get food to complete strangers!

The hamper racetrack hanging in our warehouse. As the apple moves around the track, it means we've packed more hampers and walked a longer distance.

The hamper racetrack hanging in our warehouse. As the apple moves around the track, it means we’ve packed more hampers and walked a longer distance.

At first, I didn’t realize just how far we have gone together, but then we did the math. When we’ve packed 5000 hampers, that is the equivalent of 100 kilometers. When we’ve packed 5700 hampers, that is the equivalent of 114 kilometers, or the distance from our program at 807 Guelph Street to Queen’s Park in Toronto – a feat which we had already accomplished by mid-February of this year. After 23 900 hampers, we will have packed so many that between all of volunteers they will have walked the equivalent of here to Parliament Hill in Ottawa (we will likely have covered this ground by the end of the summer or beginning of the fall).

As volunteers pack more hampers, we multiply the hampers by the amount of distance walked per hamper. To help volunteers understand the impact each day volunteering with us has, we then move our little mascot, Amos the Apple, around the track to mark how far we’ve walked. The racetrack is a visual representation of how hard volunteers work together. Every year, when put together, we walk over 600 kilometers together. For me, the racetrack is also a reminder of how many families in our community need food assistance, and that there is still a long way to go before we eradicate poverty and achieve food security for everyone.

Thanks to our incredible volunteers who walk with us and our program participants each day, and who go farther than they realize.

National Volunteer Week: how our volunteers build community

April 22, 2013

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” –Marjorie Moore

Marge and Mark take a quick break from packing hampers in the warehouse.

Marge and Mark take a quick break from packing hampers in the warehouse.

This week is National Volunteer Week, and for a program like ours that relies on volunteers to run at all, it’s a pretty special one. A few weeks ago when I was looking for inspiration for volunteer week, I came across the quote above, by Marjorie Moore. As a self-admitted political junkie, I love the quote, and I love the idea that people can work together to create a place where they feel at home. Our volunteers come in every week (or in some cases, every day!) for their shifts—so what keeps them coming back? I think what draws volunteers in is that they feel a connection to and a passion for the vision of the House of Friendship: creating healthy communities where all can belong and thrive. So, what does that kind of community look like, and what values are volunteers voting for with their hours here? I have a few ideas.

A community that believes in the right to food

The first thing I see volunteers ‘voting’ for is a community where everyone has a right to food. Everyone here is passionate about feeding people, and about creating healthy hampers. When we don’t have fresh veggies to put into hampers for people I hear volunteers lamenting the fact that the hampers aren’t as healthy as usual. White bread is always left to the end, and whole wheat goes into hampers first.

Ursula bags up some mushrooms for hampers.

Ursula bags up some mushrooms for hampers.

Volunteers like Val are excited about ‘selling’ produce people may not know how to cook, like cabbage, turnip, or papaya. They recognize that if you live on low income it can be hard to afford healthy items, and they want to give people nourishing food their family will enjoy. Every day I see excited volunteers going through recipes with people getting food, even writing down tips to send along with them. Volunteers like volunteering here because they are drawn to food issues in some capacity. Like our volunteer Sherry said, “I volunteer here because I like helping people with their food.”

(more…)

Volunteer Spotlight: Val

April 10, 2013

Val

Val has been volunteering at Food Hampers for a year now, but it feels like she’s been here forever because she fits in so well. She has something called chronic fatigue syndrome, but you wouldn’t know it by how much energy she has when she comes in–she’s always chatting with people and catching up with her fellow volunteers. She loves explaining new foods to people who use the program and trying to get them to try things they haven’t had before. My personal favourite is whenever she talks a bachelor who hates vegetables into cooking cabbage! She has also been known to drive people home with their hampers if they’re having trouble accessing transportation. It was great to sit down and learn more about such a dedicated volunteer.

How did you hear about House of Friendship?

I bumped into my dear friend Betty who also volunteers at the Food Hamper Program. I was in a severe depression at the time and told her I had nothing to do during the day, and she recommended I try it. It stabilized my life.

What do you enjoy about volunteering at the EFHP?

I love the diversity of people I work with and getting to know everyone. I love relating to the people we’re serving and trying my best to meet their needs. It’s great to be able to help.

What’s your favourite job at our program?

I love packing hampers! I like finding healthy treats for the kids, and helping  parents try healthy options like whole wheat bread instead of white. I tell people to make their kids sandwiches with one slice whole wheat and one white until the kids are used to it, and then make the full switch. I love giving people tips so they take healthier things. Feeding another person is an intimate act, and people are very defensive about what they eat, but most are open to suggestion too.

How has volunteering impacted your life?

Volunteering here has brought me out into the world again because I was very isolated. With my health concerns (chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia), I pulled further and further away from my friends. It’s very difficult to maintain a social life when I feel exhausted and my brain feels foggy all the time. I think humans have a need to be needed, and if that need involved food, then I’m there!

Are there any other programs that you are or have volunteered with?

I’ve volunteered at the library taking books to seniors, with the Out of the Cold program, and in the nursery at church.

What kind of activities or hobbies do you enjoy when you aren’t working or volunteering?

When I’m feeling up to it I love ten pin bowling (I’m useless at five pin). I also play darts at the legion. I love reading, especially crime novels set in the Victorian era or Agatha Christie. I grew up in England and my first love is the ocean.

I really appreciate Val taking the time to talk about her life. Her dedication and enthusiasm are infectious and brighten the mood wherever she is. Thanks Val!

The anonymous knitting Grandma strikes again!

February 28, 2013

Back in September, a woman came in to the food hamper program and saw a big bag of yarn that we had behind the desk. Her eyes lit up, and she quickly asked if she could bring it to her grandmother, who loved to knit. We said sure, and she went on her way.

mittens pic

A few weeks later the woman came back with mittens and hats her grandmother had knit with the yarn. Her grandmother had wanted the yarn so she could knit winter items to donate back to us. According to her granddaughter, this woman knits with any yarn available and donates what she makes to charitable organizations, who can give the items to families in need.

sweater pic

A few months after her first donation, anonymous knitting Grandma is going strong! We’ve probably received over 100 items from her, mostly in the form of hats and mittens, but also the occasional sweater and scarf. It means a lot to us and the people who come in that she puts so much time and love into her products. Parents of small children especially get excited when they find her stuff on our shelves.

Thank you, grandma, for taking the time to keep kids in Waterloo Region warm, and to all our food and clothing donors!

Celebrating 12 Days of good deeds

December 21, 2012

12 Days

Today is the last day of our 12 Days for Good campaign, and though I am sad to see it go, I’ve been so inspired by all the amazing stories I’ve heard from people who are paying it forward. Today as we celebrate the good deeds done in Waterloo Region, here are some of the highlights of the past week and a half.

To start off, word from the Christmas Hampers Warehouse is that over 4,240 hampers have been delivered to homes in Waterloo Region. This has been our busiest year yet, and it would not have been possible without all the help we got from amazing volunteers during the past 12 days. What a success!

We’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to speak to media outlets about 12 Days for Good. John Neufeld, Jane Barkley, and Natalie Brown were on Talk Local Waterloo Region discussing the impact of 12 Days and how they’ve been involved. Check out the video here.

(more…)

Our volunteers go the distance

October 15, 2012

One of the single most rewarding parts of being at the House of Friendship is working beside the hundreds of amazing volunteers who come to help us and others each and every day of the year.  At the beginning of September we took a moment to relax and celebrate their achievements in style thanks to Knox Presbyterian Church who opened their space to us and let us set up some BBQ’s to grill some tasty food.

We couldn’t have done it without Boston Pizza, Canadian Tire, The Cake Box, Future Shop, Galaxy Cinemas, Max’s Golf, the Perimeter Institute, Princess Cafe, Starbucks, The Museum, Walmart, Waterloo Region Museum, Whole-lota Gelata, and CIBC who all generously gave their own thanks for the work our volunteers do by donating raffle prizes. (more…)

HOF Family: 807 to 75

April 24, 2012

Today I’m full of a mixture of emotions for a variety of reasons which basically leaves me torn whether to be happy or sad. I’m sad that this will no longer see all of the familiar faces at Emergency Food Hampers (one a regular basis), talk to many people in need of food assistance, and do many other familiar tasks. Yet I’m also happy because people have shared so many kind words and wishes to encourage me on my new journey that will be starting soon. Yes after four incredible years with the food hamper program I’ll be saying farewell to this program and be welcomed by a new House of Friendship program: Charles Village.

I recently accepted a position as the Community Support Worker with Charles Village. I’m excited for many of the new things I’m about to learn, events I’ll plan, people I’ll soon get to know, and challenges I’ll be helping to resolve. However each time I think about this new and exciting journey, it brings me back to the memories I have of the first weeks and months here at food hampers.

When I started at food hampers I was overwhelmed with a new group of amazingly friendly volunteers each day, and a group of supportive staff to help me learn the various operations that happen within the building each day. I remember hearing people talk about doing 160 hampers and it being such a chaotic day of non-stop movement. Unfortunately now 160 feels like a standard or steady day now that we do with little to no issues, and days where we serve over 200 are manageably chaotic it seems.

Also when I first started I had no idea how little some people could live on and how creative so many people are forced to become to make their money stretch. In my span of responding to requests for food hampers I’ve heard more stories than I can share in a reasonable amount of space about struggles people face each day. Because of the transitions and experiences I’ve begun to discover how much there is to poverty and low-income and it’s opened my eyes to many struggles I didn’t even realize existed in the “small” Kitchener-Waterloo region. I feel fortunate that I was given the opportunity to learn about some of these things here.

But I’m not all smiles looking back on the changes in myself and the program over my time here. One of the reasons I’m probably saddest to leave is because I’ll be leaving behind a group of volunteers that have all touched my heart in various ways. Though each of them has shared nothing but positive and happy words, it doesn’t make it any easier to know that I won’t see many of them again. Everyone leaves a job saying they’ll be back to visit, but few people really do – but I’m hoping to be an exception to that statement though. Everyone here at food hampers has grown to become part of my extended family. While working here it’s never been uncommon for many of us to share various aspects of our lives together each time we pass each other in the warehouse or sit down for a break in the lunchroom. And this also goes for many of the staff as well! Plus there are a few patrons who visit our lobby for extra bread or to browse through the clothes on a somewhat regular basis that I’ve shared a few conversations with from time-to-time in between quiet times at the front desk or while cleaning at the end of the day. Each person has had an impact on me that I’ll never forget and helped make me a better person. And I’ll miss them all so much!

So thank you so much to everyone that I’ve encountered here! I’ve learned so much from each and every one of you that it’s hard for me to put into words how this experience has really changed my life. But most importantly I hope everyone knows that I’ll always remember you – whether you were a faithful blog reader, a student volunteering for a short bit as part of your school requirements, part of the “seasoned chicken club” of volunteers, staff or patrons! And hopefully you won’t forget me either!

Expect the unexpected

March 30, 2012

photo via flickr

Each day, week, month and year we are here at the Emergency Food Hamper Program something new and different happens.  It could be an unexpected donation, a new and interesting volunteer, or a new story and difficult decision to make.

So far 2012 has proven to be a challenging year for us.  Our weekly plan for how we will distribute food have required more forethought, planning and second guessing than usual.  Why is that?  There are a few reasons. (more…)