Posts Tagged ‘what’s in a food hamper’

What a party

September 30, 2011

When Sara approached the counter to register for a food hamper it was very clear that she was uncomfortable. As I talked to her she told me that the crowds were making her uncomfortable. She doesn’t like to be around a lot of people even on a good day. And lately she’s starting to forget what a good day feels like.

My fridge never stays full long. I have five teenagers at home, plus my husband, Robert and I. My kids never feel full – no matter what they eat or how much they eat. I never thought I’d be spending this much on groceries. I always grew up having enough money to buy whatever I wanted; but now I barely have enough money to buy all the things we need. And it’s not going to be any easier now that my best friend, Amy moved in. She was evicted from her apartment after not being able to make her rent again. She told me it’d be temporary until she can get a full-time job again. But I knew she wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for her bad-tempered boyfriend, Josh mouthing off to his employer. He deserved to get fired for it. But doesn’t he care about paying the rent? It almost seems like he doesn’t care how he’s hurting Amy. I’m not a fan of Josh but I know Amy loves him and she’s a close friend. So I agreed to let them move in with me for a bit because I couldn’t live with the idea of her living on the streets. And she won’t go into a shelter because they won’t be allowed to be together.
Now they’re going to be staying with me for a lot longer. Recently Amy was in a terrible car accident. So Robert and I are trying to make the best of our even fuller house. As if things weren’t busy enough we’ve got two more people to sit at the table everyday. Our house is a big party, except without the fun. Sometimes it can be hard to have friends. You don’t want to turn them away but it’s not easy to take them in when you don’t have a lot to spare.

Imagine being at Sara’s table even before getting a food hamper. Since there are so many people in the house and barely any income to cover all the expenses it’s more than likely that you’ve been eating a lot of cheaper foods like rice, beans, potatoes and pasta – all the starchy foods that aren’t necessarily the healthiest choices but make you feel the fullest. These might not be the foods you’re craving at the end of the day; it’s just all the grocery budget can afford so that everyone can continue to see food on the table.

Now that Amy and Josh are living with you things are even tighter. No one wanted to give their identification to register for a food hamper program. They have a lot of fear and uncertainty. They’ve never had to come to a food bank before. But what other options are there? How many more days can everyone skip eating a meal? As a parent, how many more times can you listen to your children tell you there’s nothing to eat? There’s a clear choice: go hungry or ask for a food hamper. Which would you do?

Everyone is anxiously waiting for you to come home. And you can’t wait to get out of our building. This is an experience you never imagined living. But you know that this food hamper means so many different things: you’ll have the money to pay the rent and other bills, and you’ll also all be able to eat dinner for the first time in a few days. Then we call your name.

You thank the volunteer who packed your hamper after giving you the food hamper. But before packing the boxes in your car you take a second to look through the food that you received:

This is a hamper that we packed for a family of seven people.

You’re thankful for what you’ve received but you can’t stop thinking about a few of the things you were hoping to see. There are no eggs or cheese…the kids won’t really like that cereal…and I’ve never cooked cabbage before. And wait, what can the kids take as a snack to school? You’ve got a million questions and thoughts running through your head. Plus you know once you get this stuff home the kids will impulsively want to eat a lot of the items, especially the pretzels and cookies. How can you ask them to wait? This food is all you have until your child tax benefit comes through in a few days.

This food is a blessing and a challenge all in one bundle. You’re going to have to adjust your cooking habits and food preferences a little because what other choice do you have? You could spend a few dollars from your bank account but then your hydro may be cut off because they won’t let your overdue charges run much higher. If you still have a phone setup, you can look forward to the inevitable collection agency calls. Then how do you explain that to the kids? Finally you decide that you’ll find a way to mange through the food because a little sacrifice now will bring better things in the future. Hopefully.


September 20, 2011

One of the big questions we get is “how do I get a hamper?”

It’s a good question.  If you go to a hundred food programs across the country, you will likely have a hundred different experiences.  Each  place is different; there is no standard, but there are similarities.

A while ago, we managed to get our hands on a nice camera, and the staff here were kind enough to take on starring roles in our own re-enactment of getting up the courage to walk through our door, talk to a staff person and get a hamper.  Thanks to Nadir for the camera work, Melissa and Michelle for their acting skills and our volunteers for providing some background.

Take the example of Andrew, who Melissa blogged about last week.  This is likely pretty close to what he would have experienced when visiting our program.  On average we serve about 140 families and individuals each day we are open. Without the hard work of our volunteers and donors we couldn’t do it.

So, we’re obviously not going to win any Oscars, but we hope this video answers some of your questions.

Here are a few things to consider:

The lobby can often be very busy.  How would you feel having this conversation in front of a room of strangers?

Our hampers vary, sometimes a lot.  Is that box of food something you would want to share with your family? What foods do you wish we had that aren’t there?

In the video it’s winter.  How would you get to us if you didn’t have a car or bus fare?  We are here.  What if you lived here?  Kind of a long walk isn’t it?  I hope you have warm boots. Even in summer it’s not a treat.  When it’s really hot out, sometimes it’s worse.  Sunstroke, frostbite or hunger. It’s not an easy choice.

Stay tuned for some more stories from people who have used our program. As you read them, keep this video in the back of your mind.  Each one of them will have gone through this process, sometimes many times, over many years.

Rotten egg award

March 25, 2011

In the last part of our three part series, today, I will talk about April, the ignoble winner of the (now) infamous Rotten Egg Award for 2010.

Unfortunately April is a bad time for our food hampers to fall below the overall averages because April is a tricky time of the year for many patrons. At this time many patrons are trying to catch up on debts that they have accumulated over the holidays or during periods of seasonal unemployment before their EI claims were processed. For others the fact that outdoor seasonal employment, such as landscaping or construction, aren’t in full swing yet hits hard because their part-time hours aren’t sufficient to pay all the bills. Also student (summer) placement jobs don’t generally begin until late June, despite the fact that many students are done their university semesters and their OSAP before this. Plus at some point in the month many families and individuals will be looking forward to the idea of eating a big meal and sharing gifts with young children, as a part of celebrating Easter with their families but lack the funds and ability to do so. Clearly there are many different reasons why this is a bad time for food assistance programs to be running short on supplies. But with 2 581 households in need of assistance, how bad were things? (more…)

On average things are looking up!

March 21, 2011

With 2010 behind us we’ve been able to put it on the scales and gain some knowledge of what happened last year. Some of the knowledge I specifically try to gather each year is about the nutritional value of our food hampers, which you might remember from a previous post. (If not, you can read it here.) So with this in mind, let’s begin looking at how our food averages changed from 2009 to 2010. (more…)

We’re more than just canned foods

October 13, 2010

“Today I had my first food bank experience. I can’t remember ever being through anything more humiliating.”

So begins a personal essay, published in 2006 in Briarpatch magazine.   In it, the author details their first visit to a food program and their frustrated expectations, hopes and forced adjustment to less than ideal circumstances.  You can read it by clicking here.

The author concludes their essay by commenting, “How would I ever feed my family if this was all I had to live on?”

The author of the Briar Patch article raises some important points throughout to reflect on, but this question is what we ask ourselves each day when we take stock of what is in our warehouse. (more…)

Where we go from here…

October 5, 2010

In a previous post, I provided information about the hamper audit, and statistics from the 2009 hampers – but how does that translate into our hampers each day and where do we go from here? First here’s a reminder of the 2009 overall averages for each food category and family size:

Grains Dairy Vegetables and Fruit Meat (and alternatives)
One person 5.4 2.3 9.2 5.6
Two people 3.7 2.0 5.8 4.3
Three people 3.8 1.9 6.3 3.1
Four people 3.3 1.8 5.7 2.8
These figures represent the average number of days a hamper in 2009 would last for each family size, based on the upper limit of the number of daily recommended servings for each food group from Canada’s Food Guide values.

Second, we’ll discuss each category in terms of the gaps and challenges we face in reaching our three to five-day goal of food. Then I will give some insight to the ‘tricks of the trade’ in boosting averages when possible and finally, I’ll wrap it all up with some food for thought. (more…)

Fill a bag with more than food

October 1, 2010

Most people are reminded about the need to donate food during the holiday season, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, when the food bank typically holds their food drive campaigns. At this time of the year the paper food drive bags are often included with the local flyers that are distributed to each household. Volunteers may also take these bags door-to-door encouraging the community to donate non-perishable products that can be distributed through the many different hamper and meal programs providing food assistance in the region.

The Food bank kicked off their Thanksgiving Food Drive on September 27. During the food drives we’re often reminded over the next few days and weeks about the number of people who rely on our food donations for assistance throughout the year. Each food drive also sets a goal of how much food they predict they’ll need between drives to support the number of people in need. All non-perishable food donations are graciously appreciated and accepted, but there are certain items that are in more demand than others. Click here to find out which specific items are most in need. (more…)

2 years and counting…counting food that is!

September 28, 2010

I started working here near the end of February 2008 and began my first project a month later: the hamper audit. The main reason I enjoy this project is because it’s fascinating to track each and every item that is distributed in hampers for families of one to four persons when we open and when we close. Tracking all these items helps us have a comprehensive list of what may have been in a hamper on any given day. This helps us identify and track trends in donations and demand, and better understand what we are distributing each day. But creating these lists is only half the project; the other half involves organizing each item in groups to determine how nutritious our hampers are, based on Canada’s Food Guide values.

For any item to be accepted into one of the food groups it has to meet certain nutritional requirements. Though most items are easy to categorize such as a broccoli florets and yogurt, there are more “difficult” foods that require some evaluation. One example of a “difficult food” is crackers, which the Food Bank has been consistently had available for many weeks now. Crackers are a simple snack and are generally acceptable for anyone to eat, but can be high in sodium. This presents a challenge, as the Food Guide encourages food choices to be low in calories, fat, sugar and sodium. As a result I need to read the label to make an educated decision on whether the crackers are a grain serving or an extra since the food guide recommends minimizing sodium in your diet.

Nevertheless I’m not here to give a lesson on nutrition; instead this blog will share some of the 2009 statistics I have collected doing the hamper audit. One thing to note is that these statistics are a result of many wonderful donations, and Raymond’s (our warehouse coordinator) excellent predictions with his quotas. Luckily these factors seem to work well together, as our program has been able to consistently distribute an average of three to five days worth of food in almost all food categories. (more…)

What is Ramadan in Islam?

September 15, 2010

Hello, my name is Nadir, I am an intake worker at the food hamper program, and for my first blog post I will talk a little bit about the holy month of Ramadan which has just finished.

Waterloo Region is a growing part of Ontario, and has always been a place where different people from different parts of the world come together, to live, to work and build a better life. These people bring their ideas, cultures and spirituality with them to their new home. We have always had strong Mennonite roots since the early days, but to that have been added different denominations of Christianity, and other religions, including, but not limited to Islam. (more…)

Not your traditional milk – but just as good!

September 14, 2010

Any of the volunteers and staff who have worked at our program over the last two years will likely be able to tell you something about goat’s milk, as it’s been a familiar donation to our program over this period. Because it’s a regular donation for our program, some of our faithful blog readers may also feel familiar with this product since we’ve likely mentioned it in a few earlier blogs. Either way, let’s continue the trend in helping more people become familiar with goat’s milk! (more…)