Posts Tagged ‘why’

One wrong turn

May 31, 2012

image via Flickr

It’s amazing how quickly your life can turn from good to bad. One second you have it all together; and the next you’re scrambling to make ends meet. Life is full of tricky twists and turns, and sometimes there’s not much keeping you away from needing a program like ours.

Take Randy for example. Randy often made that extra step at the grocery store and each week dropped off a few extra items into the food bank donation bin. Today, he needs to go to one for the first time.

This summer started off like a dream. I had great friends, a house, and got a great job. I’ve been working construction, when there’s enough work to do. Since I just started I’m the first one to get a day off when a job is held up or there’s not enough work to pass along. But it’s been okay because the long hours on some of the other days have helped me make enough to cover all my bills. I wasn’t a millionaire but things were comfortable….Boy I miss those days! Now I’m constantly on the phone with car repair facilities, my insurance company, doctors and physiotherapists. This is all because of a car accident that happened one day after work. I don’t remember everything because it all happened so fast. And I couldn’t believe how quickly I ran through the little savings I had… it didn’t take long before I needed a food bank.

It may sound like a cliché, but you never know how many bad turns, days or weeks you are away from having to come to a food bank. If you suddenly lost your job, how long would your savings last? What could you sell or quickly pawn to cover your bills? How long could you keep on doing that?

With limited insurance coverage your monthly bills already exceeding your savings – what do you do? Where do you turn? Who would you rely on to get you through this difficult time? How quickly would you be able to do something like sell your house? And then what? How do you start over again?  What happens to your retirement plans?

For Randy all of this uncertainty is because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s hopeful but he can only hold onto hope for so long. What would keep you strong enough to make it through this uncertain time?

Many people like Randy never realize how many missed pay cheques away they are from needing to swallow their pride and turn to our volunteers for help. When you’re working and things are going well you rarely imagine what it would take to put you too far back. Often all it takes is one unexpected turn of event to set people back on the bills for a few weeks, months, or sometimes years. When you’re ahead it’s easy to keep going, but when you fall behind it’s a hard climb back up to regain that feeling that you are in control of your life again.

Wishing it was just a dream

May 10, 2012

From time-to-time my coworkers and I become a listening ear for someone in a crisis. Sometimes we can direct people to other resources for help; but sometimes people just need someone to vent to. This is exactly the case for Jessica. Jessica is coming for a food hamper after experiencing a situation that she never imagined being faced with.

When I woke up today and looked around my house I pinched myself. This had to be a bad dream that I’d wake up from. I even tried going back to bed to convince myself that this couldn’t be real. My partner left a note saying it was over. And then I noticed that all the food in our fridge and cupboards, and a few other things were gone. How could he just leave me like this? And why did he take everything? We can’t live without food. Sometime in the middle of the night he left and took everything with him. Sure I have a full-time job but we live pay cheque to pay cheque – where am I going to get the money to buy everything back that he’s taken? He didn’t have a steady job but he kicked in money towards the bills here and there, which was always enough to get us by. Now I’ll probably have to cancel my internet and home phone because I doubt I’ll be able to afford them anymore. And I’m already thinking about the possibility of moving to something cheaper. I’ve got a million thoughts going through my mind that I’m not even sure where to start!

Coming here was a step in the right direction. Though it definitely wasn’t an easy choice, we can give her some options. Wait – let me rephrase that: give you more options, because you’re not dreaming either – this is your story.

The first thing you check is your bank account. You remember giving him your debit card to get groceries a few days ago when you were too tired to go after work. Did he give you the card back? Did he take out any money on top of the cost of all the groceries? You never thought to worry about anything like that because you felt like the relationship was going well. Unfortunately you were in for a surprise.

You waited so long to move in together because you wanted to know that you could both afford an apartment together and that he was a good fit for your kids. For a few months it was a great decision but now you’re kids are wondering where all the stuff went and when they’ll see him again.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Like Jessica, I’m sure your mind would be racing a mile a minute through all these thoughts. You can start by referrals through friends and families to get connected to immediate supports such as food banks. Then from there you’ll hope they can refer you to social service agencies or thrift stores that can help you obtain all the items that your ex took from you. And each day you go through this difficult transition I’m sure you’d continue hoping that this is still a bad dream that you’ll eventually wake up from. Luckily for you, this situation will end when you close this blog, but Jessica continues to stay awake through these struggles.

Embarking on a new path

April 12, 2012

People like to talk about it and read into the meaning of it, but divorce is something that many people will experience at one point in their lives. There are many reasons for it, sometimes things end amicably; sometimes it’s because of stress and debt, abuse, infidelity, substance abuse, or career related conflicts (Source). Regardless of the reasons, studies from the 2006 Canadian Census reveal that four in ten first marriages will end in divorce before 2035 (Source). Unfortunately today this is one of the current and stressful situations that Diane is facing.

After a few years of marriage we decided to start having kids. It was challenging at times, but also the most wonderful decision we made. I love my kids with all my heart…But sometime after that is when I think my husband and I started to grow apart. Well I know we started growing apart, because we’re just in the final stages of settling who gets what assets. It’s such a complicated procedure and we haven’t even started figuring out child support payments! I’m a single mom with three kids and a limited support network. After the divorce I needed to find a new place to live, so we moved to Kitchener a few weeks ago. I’m still working on finding a job and daycare but last week the last of my savings ran out. Luckily I found out about this program so we can have some food while I keep getting my resume out there. I never realized how hard it would be to start my life over from scratch.

Life as a single parent is going to be a big adjustment – and definitely one that you’ll never be able to prepare yourself for. (more…)

Home Economics 101: Waterloo Edition – What does a healthy diet cost?

February 3, 2012

It’s no surprise how quickly a grocery bill can add up throughout the month after you buy fresh produce, school snacks, meat, milk, and all the other foods you need. But do you have any idea how much money someone typically spends to feed the average family in Waterloo Region a healthy diet? … Give up? Well keep reading and you’ll find out!

Back in September The Region of Waterloo released their annual “Cost of the Nutritious Food Basket” report, which provides an estimate on the overall cost for a household to eat a healthy diet. The estimates of this report are based on average food prices from various grocery stores throughout the community, based on the dietary recommendations from Canada’s Food Guide for specific ages and genders, the number of people in the household and reflective on eating patterns of the community. (more…)

2012 is a year to be smart here!

January 30, 2012

In the past I took some time to highlight some of the functions of our lobby or waiting area, which you can read about here. But oops – I missed something: our bulletin board! Our bulletin board is a relatively big part of our lobby that we try to fill with social services event listings, any new updates to social assistance recipients or low-income individuals, job postings, and current rental housing lists.

Recently I set up a new display on our bulletin board that focuses on one of the twelve themes in the 2012 Smart Consumer Calendar. Here’s a picture of it to give you an idea:

Though you can't read all the words it gives you a small glimpse at all the tips I've tried to share.

Debt is something that most people living in North America are familiar with.  Credit cards bills, mortgages and student loans all pile up and need to be paid each month.  For people who lose their jobs these bills keep coming.  Many people are employed seasonally, so a lack of snow this year also means a lacking paycheck. (more…)

A (Mon)day in the life…

January 2, 2012

As promised, this entry is the first in a series of posts to share with you a taste of what it is like to be the House of Friendship Social Service Intern. I thought I would break these entries into smaller posts by day, so as to not overwhelm you with too many stories. So, here you have it: a Monday in the life of the Social Service Intern.

I am generally at the Emergency Food Hamper Program all day on Mondays (as well as on Thursday mornings and all day on Fridays). When I first arrive at 8:30 in the morning, I am always greeted with a friendly hello from all of the staff and volunteers. For the first two and a half hours, I get to work with the other volunteers and staff who are working in the warehouse. Here, I do things like stock shelves full of items that we provide to patrons – anything from soup, yogurt and pasta to diapers, baby food and dog food. Or, I help bag potatoes or carrots into smaller bags that will be shared in the food hampers. It’s always interesting to see the variety of items that are donated to us, as we receive donations from the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, Loblaws, and individual donations from members of the community. I have found that since working in the warehouse, I have learned so much about food itself – such as what different types of exotic vegetables are used for, or when foods are good until. (For instance, did you know that yogurt is typically good for 14 days after its best-before date? Who knew?) There’s never a dull moment in the warehouse, and the staff and volunteers are always chipper and ready to serve others with joy.

Recently, I finished learning about our intake process and getting some more experience doing intake. We open our doors to the public at 11:00am, and at that time, I am helping at intake. After a while of working in intake to help with the morning rush, I move back and forth between intake and packing food hampers.

Intake involves sensitively welcoming patrons as they come and getting some basic information from them to pull up their files (see Matt’s post here).  I find this part of the job fascinating, for a number of reasons.  Something that I find myself reacting internally to is the diversity in the  ages of patrons who come to use the food hamper program, and the broad scope of life experiences  from which each one comes.

I’ve heard the saying “curiosity, rather than judgement” before. That string of words continues to play through my mind during my experiences here at hampers. Say, for example, there is a patron who may have already had 9 visits with us in a year instead of the “theoretical limit” of 6, and wants another hamper today. Suddenly, I have a choice in front of me. I can grow impatient and frustrated, wondering why this patron doesn’t seem to abide by our guidelines. Or, I can choose to act with grace and patience, perhaps remaining open to the different reasons why this person may be in more dire need for emergency food than just the six hampers a year can satisfy. I can gently explain to this patron how we can help today, and maybe ask more questions to determine what sorts of other resources he or she could access for food in the future.

Often, in asking for a patron’s birthday to pull up a file, I learn that there is a man or woman who is exactly, or near to, my age, or the same age as my siblings (as Mike had experienced, and written about here; or as Allison shared in this post). Suddenly, the person on the other side of the counter is no longer just the person on the other side of the counter. In our short interaction, I see myself in them. Or I see my best friend, or my twenty-year-old twin brothers. It really is amazing how personal it makes things, and how much it makes me appreciate how my life has turned out so far. It just so happens that I have enough money to live comfortably in an apartment with enough food to satisfy. It just so happens that life events have happened, for me, in such a way that I do not find myself wondering where my next meal will come from. But when I am looking at a woman on the other side of the counter who is around my age and who has three kids plus herself to support, I find myself overwhelmed. I realize again and again how easily my life could look different. How easily the tables could be turned. Because really, I require food as much as a patron who comes into our program does. We are both equals in life, in society and in our necessity of food. The only difference is the amount of available resources that each of us has.

These are just some of the experiences through which I am learning a great deal at House of Friendship. There is no doubt in my mind that I will continue to learn exponentially more through the rest of my time here.

What the House of Friendship does to Pitch In

December 15, 2011

Trent, Christine and Colin get ready to Pitch In and share the first Turkey of the season

In the last 5 days we have been sharing stories of people who are getting involved this December and tips for getting your own volunteer journey started. (Read it here)

Today, we want to share a few more stories and ideas from House of Friendship staff.

At the House of Friendship (HoF), volunteers work closely beside us in virtually all our programs.  Did you know that HoF staff also volunteer and pitch in outside of their own jobs?  They do!  For some of us, (myself included) volunteering is what got us interested in the work that HoF does.  For others it is a natural extension of our desire to see the community be a better place and to continuously learn.

Christine told me:  “I volunteer with several local groups, with interests ranging from heritage preservation to my parish council. I have volunteered since returning from university some 20+ years ago, and remain grateful to the many talented and generous people who have taught me so much along the way.”

Have you considered that helping out can include things like preparing a meal for friends and reminding people that you’re there for them through difficult times?  Taylor at Charles Village shared with me: “My wife and I, and our friends are all making an extra casserole this week to give to a friend who has injured their hand. Because of a past personal experience we are aware of how difficult it can be to get by without the use of one hand. There is something profound about sharing food that you prepared with love. Any time of significant change or challenge is a great time to offer meals. It is a way that you can contribute something tangible during a time when things seem otherwise out of our control.”

At the Kingsdale Community Centre, staff person Fanny, volunteers  on the Board of Directors of MT Space and is the Artistic Director for Voices del Sur (a Spanish children’s choir) and Ecos del Sur (a Spanish adult choir).  She told me that she volunteers “because I have 3 passions, my language, music and children. I volunteer because it joins all these passions together. ”

And Bethany and Matt, co-workers of mine at the Food Hamper Program, have a long volunteer connection to the Christmas Hamper Program.   The brother and sister duo take time in the evening and on weekends to pitch in and help where they can, enlisting friends when possible and making it a family affair.  Matt told me “people come to volunteer with Christmas Hampers for many different reasons, but all of them seem to share the same excitement for helping people in our community during the holiday season.”

In previous years Bethany was able to spend more time with Christmas hampers, but the busy schedule here makes that difficult now.  She told me that “although I am not able to spend as much time at Christmas Hampers, I am still making an effort to deliver some hampers to people in our community. Volunteering at Christmas Hampers is a wonderful experience, where people come together every December, some who have been volunteering for many years, and others who are looking for something to get involved in during the holiday season.”

This is just a sample of some of the ways we at House of Friendship try and model the change we want to see in the community.  For us, volunteering and volunteers are a rewarding part of our lives and we hope that you’ll consider at least one way to make it a part of your life as well.  Let us know as we continue on our 12day journey of helping Kitchener Waterloo to get out there and volunteer.  Send us a shout out to @HOFKW on Twitter or post on our Facebook wall.  How are you pitching in?

A big move

November 21, 2011

Some of us know the struggles and challenges that are associated with moving to a new province or city, but can you imagine how much harder it would be to move to a different country? Here you’d be surrounded by a new place where you potentially know only a handful of people, and need to find a place to live and a source of income. It’s no easy task; so often many social service agencies refer new Canadians to our program to help them transition and settle into their new life in Canada. Sometimes after a few hampers they’re able to move on and support themselves; but sometimes they find themselves in a more challenging position than when they first arrived. To give you an idea of this, here’s the story of Sophia:

I remember going to Emergency Food Hampers as a child, but I never really knew or understood what it was. I remember coming with my siblings and we would enter this “store” and fight over all the toys and stuff in the lobby. We thought it was so cool that you didn’t have to pay for anything…My parents came to Canada a long time ago, but never used House of Friendship until they started having kids. It was just the two of them, but quickly our family became seven people. As our family grew I remember my dad began staying at home. My mom said he wasn’t able to work anymore so we would receive some help from disability benefits. My parents told us that our family wouldn’t have a lot of money, but we’d always find a way to work through it. I never remember my parents being stressed or feeling that our family was poor. My mom was the only one working and providing for the family. With only a high school diploma, my mom could not find a good paying job that would adequately support a family of seven. She worked night shifts, often with over-time. But I knew it wasn’t enough sometimes; otherwise there was no reason for us to come to this program. 

Sophia’s story is not unique. Often many patrons bring their children with them to get a food hamper because they can’t afford or don’t know anyone to watch their children. Also this is one of the few chances that these parents can say “yes” to their children when they ask if they’re allowed to take that toy or pair of shorts home.

Think back about your own childhood.  The world was a pretty complicated place and you always had a lot of questions for your parents.  How would you ask them about the food bank?  Would you have been able to understand how hard it is to ask strangers for help?

If you were able to, would you be able to explain to your 8-year-old self what it’s like to struggle to balance the household finances and do the things you feel most “normal” families do, like visit the restaurants your school mates do, go on trips, and have the right clothes to fit in?

Many people who turn to us are working one way or another to make ends meet.  Today, this often means the night shift, temp work and a handful of very part-time jobs.  How do you handle that fluctuation and unexpected circumstances? It’s hard to save and plan ahead for the future because some of the over-time pay money always goes to paying down the hydro or water bill, car insurance, or dentist.

At times you get ahead but then quickly things change where you have almost no hours at work again and the bills keep coming. Work is unpredictable, but your education limits your options on where you can work, and your English is not the greatest to write a resume to even apply for another job. But if you did apply elsewhere and got a job, your family can’t wait until any new medical benefits kick in after a few months.

Luckily Sophia’s family has medical benefits. Many people accessing our program work at part-time or temporary employment positions and don’t get the opportunity to receive any health benefits. However, saving on this expense still doesn’t put them in a better situation.

Many families scrape by most months, so it’s unlikely that there will be any savings for retirement or college funds for any of the children they may have. If they work hard and get the grades some of them may be able to earn scholarships to help pay for the increasing costs; or some may get bank loans or OSAP  in order to secure a job that may deliver better future.

In the mean time, we will be here to help when things get tough.

A New Member of the (House of Friendship) Family

November 14, 2011

My name is Sarah Warren, and I am the new Social Service Intern with House of Friendship for the 2011/2012 year. I’m following in the footsteps of Allison and Emily, the previous interns who have posted here.  I started working with House of Friendship at the beginning of September and, 2 months in, I am loving it! I’m so excited and feel so privileged to be a part of extending a helping hand to those in need and seeing justice come in our community. As my first post on this blog, I wanted to introduce myself a bit, and perhaps provide a snapshot of what has led me to this point. (more…)

Let’s talk about something….

November 11, 2011

We talk a lot about food, and often the topic of the social determinants of health comes up (here, here, and here).  Recently, a link to a nice video developed by the health unit in Sudbury showed up in my inbox.  It helps explain the basics of the social determinants of health and I’m here to share it with you today:

Is food a social determinant of health?  Yes.  An important one.  Did you ever think that food banks are wrapped up in the business of health care?  In a way they are.  You can think of us like paramedics if you’re feeling charitable.  We rush to the scene of crisis, deliver assistance and then move on.  Or perhaps, you can just think of us as good Samaritans who happen on a disaster.  We help as best we can and then maybe the situation improves, maybe it doesn’t.

But to extend the comparison a little further, are we doing enough about the cause of the disaster?  Sure, a little help gets people on their feet.  But who keeps knocking them down?  And what is the long-term consequence of getting pushed down by things like poverty, unemployment, bad housing, limited choices, and bad or no food?

Watch the video, give it some thought and talk to someone you know about it.  Talk to the people you’ve voted for, and who you’re going to vote for next election time.  It’s important for people like Ronald, Andrew, Maria and all the people that we serve.