Posts Tagged ‘why’

Can you ever have too much rice?

November 7, 2011

Feed a dream

Before we know it the sky will fill with lovely snow flakes and the days will become colder here in Ontario. While there are many opportunities to get outside in the winter and stay fit, many people tend to spend a little more time indoors.  So what can you do, while your inside, staying warm and counting the days until it’s spring time?

Well I’m here to tell you about a fun and educational way to spend some of your spare time – especially if your household includes some school age children who want to test and expand their knowledge. To see what I’m talking about, click here.  It’s an online game with a twist.  Instead of getting points and being able to boast about your high score, each correct answer makes a little difference to someone somewhere in the world, ten grains of rice at a time.

Isn’t this great? For each correct answer you make to questions in a wide variety of subjects a little bit of rice will be donated to the World Food Program. It may seem like such a small amount but it all adds up and it’s free!  This is all thanks to the group who created FreeRice, a non-profit website now run by the United Nations World Food Programme.

But how can a non-profit website buy enough rice to donate 10 grains for each question you answer right? All the rice that you win through the game is paid for by sponsors whose advertisement banners will appear at the bottom of the screen when you enter a question correctly. Each of these sponsors also supports the goals of promoting learning or free education for everyone, and reducing hunger throughout the world.

FreeRice tries to provide more rice to countries that typically include this as a staple item in their diet. On average these countries typically receive approximately 400 grams of rice person, per day (for families, including children and adults). Generally the goal of each donation is to provide people with two meals, with the assumption they’ll also include other local ingredients, in the aim to achieve 2100 kilocalories of daily nutrition. 

By answering 600 questions correctly you donate one serving (according to Canada’s Food Guide) of a ½ cup of rice to someone in need. Although it seems like a lot of questions, you’ll rack of the number of grains you donate quickly!

If you are a part of a service club, or church, or have a circle of friends who like to do things together, you can all register as a group and compete with other groups and track the total amount of donations you have generated.

“Making the world a better place starts with food. Food fuels education. Food fuels free choice. Food fuels economic independence. Food fuels peace.” (Source)

So by playing the game you are helping do something about hunger in the world, but what about hunger in our community?  Currently rice is the fourth most needed food donation at the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. So please consider spending a few minutes to answer a couple of questions and the next time you are at the grocery store think of your neighbours in need and make a donation to the bin by the check out. (Click here to read one of our previous blog posts on what our patrons think about rice).

And in the end think of all the people who will be able to enjoy a meal or rice because of your efforts to test your knowledge.

Advertisements

Tears of change

October 21, 2011

We’ve said it before that one of the first times people come to our program is one of the hardest. Not only are they answering personal questions to complete strangers in front of many other people waiting for a food hamper; but they’re also coming to terms with the fact that despite every effort to support themselves they need food assistance. You may remember our intake process video from Matt’s post, but here’s the other side to the intake story. Let me introduce Ashley, a single mom of five children.

I never imagined coming to a food bank – especially with all my children with me. I try to work as many hours as possible while they’re in school but it doesn’t always work. If one of my kids gets sick, I have to call in to work because I don’t have anyone that can baby-sit, and I can’t afford to hire anyone. That’s part of what set me back actually: one kid got sick after another. My boss has been really understanding which helps. She’s a single mom too…The people who helped me register for a food hamper were really nice. I didn’t want to be too greedy taking everything from the checklist, because I knew I’d get paid in about a week and could then go buy these things. My kids are great in understanding that sometimes I can’t provide them with everything. But it really helped that the people at the counter tried to put me at ease and encourage me to take more food items if we didn’t have them at home, even if I could afford to buy them in a few days …I had no idea how much food that would mean though. I broke down in tears after the volunteer finished packing my hamper. Someone who has never met me before just changed my life more than I could ever imagine.

If you’re already a single parent you may understand how Ashley is feeling through all this chaos. But if you’re not a single parent, try to envision yourself in this situation. So if you’re a parent with a partner, imagine that your other half isn’t there to provide another income or to help you watch the kids. And if you’re not a parent, imagine that you have to take care of yourself and also a few children.

At one point you had a partner to help you handle everything that happened with all the kids – but now it’s just you. It’s pretty overwhelming right? Luckily your children understand the situation, but that doesn’t make life any easier. You try to sacrifice things for yourself and budget the best you can, but sometimes it means that you just don’t have it all together. Sometimes you won’t be able to buy their most desired toy to put a smile on their face on their birthday; or have a turkey on the table for Thanksgiving.

When you have a limited income, sometimes it means missing out on celebrating holidays. You might be able to make up for it a few days later but it doesn’t make it easier as a parent that you have to make your children wait until you get paid before they can get a birthday present. You know they’re not making a fuss because they don’t want you to feel bad, but they don’t realize that you already do.

Now you’re coming here for a food hamper, after trying to explain to your children that you’re struggling – without worrying them. You started by not checking off much, because you think there are people who need this service more. But then you’re touched when the staff try to encourage you to take more because programs like us are around to help people when they fall in these struggling circumstances.

You’re trying to stay strong because you hate when your kids see you cry. Also it would be weird to cry in front of a room full of strangers. However you can’t hold back when the volunteer finishes packing your hamper. Before coming here you had next to no food in your cupboards and fridge, but now you’re confronted with a bunch of possible meals. There’s a selection of anything from yogurt, to school snacks, to vegetables, to meat, and a wide variety of other products.

As you can see it’s pretty evident that we’ve touched Ashley’s life in a significant way. However what she doesn’t realize is how she’s touched the lives of the people who work at our program. Her tears of joy show the volunteers that though each task is small, it has an irreplaceable impact on a person’s life. This single mom has come to us with no idea what to expect, and leaves us without enough words to thank us for all we’ve done.

Living in a teeter totter

October 3, 2011

Life is full of ups and downs. When things are looking up, it’s great. But when they fall down, the challenges can sometimes be too much to bear. It’s especially difficult when you’re thrown into a pattern of traumatic and stressful events. It’s a real test of will and strength, and often very easy to fall in a position of needing help. Overcoming these falls can be harder than you’d ever imagine. Once the bills pile up it’s hard to know if you’ll ever get caught up.

Balancing between paying the rent and buying groceries is hard. I haven’t been able to keep a steady employment record so I never should have tried to afford an apartment on my own. Rent is really expensive! I’ll probably have to move into a rooming house. I’ve done that before. It wasn’t so bad – but it wasn’t great either. But it’s better than Mary’s place or some other shelter. I just like having a space to call my own…I use to own a house with my husband. Well ex-husband. After three stillbirths our marriage dissolved. We had a lot of problems and I never really got over being an alcoholic; but we did manage to have one child survive. And after many years I’ve decided not to drink. I want to be a good role model for my son, Trevor. He’s a miracle! Trevor was two pounds when he was born nine weeks premature. He went three weeks with no amniotic fluid. My water broke and then I delivered three weeks later. Go ask any nurse and see if that’s possible…Unfortunately I haven’t seen a lot of my son though. Around the time that my husband divorced me I had a breakdown. So Trevor lived with his father while I spent some time in a psychiatric hospital. I’ve been in and out of those places; trying to take care of my son whenever I could. But Trevor doesn’t really want to spend a lot of time with me. I’m not sure I want to see much of him either. At the age of seven he started abusing me just like his father did…But he’s my son and I love him. I’m trying to be a part of his life; but it’s hard. He’s in trouble with the law. So now that I’m out of the hospital, it’s likely he’ll be going to jail. It seems like he’s always in trouble – and I’ve told him I won’t give him the money to help out. Normally I would. I’m the type of person who will give you whatever you need if I have it. If you came to my door needing bread, you’d have half a loaf if I had it. My mother always raised me to share and help others. We were raised with the values of the church and to acknowledge something bigger than you or I. I’ve always believed that God will send someone to help whenever needed.

Think of this as your story. Take a second to reflect how you’d feel in this situation if Trevor was your son.  What if you were Trevor?

While your son is pushing you away, you’re trying to form a relationship with him. You know he doesn’t care what you have to say or share your values; but you want to be a part of his life. Actually you need him to be a part of your life because family support and love is often what separates you between experiencing another mental breakdown or not.

Yes he’s frustrating you because he’s making all the wrong decisions in your eyes, but you can’t stop dwelling on the fact that he’s family and you love him. But how much longer can you watch him make these decisions? You know his bank account is running low because few people will hire someone with a criminal record. So what will you do when he doesn’t have the money for his court fines or lawyers fees? Although you want to help, unfortunately you’re financial situation isn’t much better than his. You continually struggle to meet your basic needs such as rent, utilities and groceries. But at least you’re willing to access various programs for supports; Trevor refuses to talk to strangers about what’s going on in his life because he feels they wouldn’t understand.

At least he’ll talk to you though. Well it’s more that he just stops by when he needs something. You think he may be abusing your good nature, but you can’t turn him away. You’ve tried sending him back to his father but he refuses to tell him anything. You suspect it’s probably because he doesn’t want to suffer the same physical and emotional abuse that he knows you went through. His father has the money to help him, but is it worth the abuse that you’ll both endure? Your ex-husband continually blames you for all the problems Trevor has.

But no one is to blame here. Unfortunately your life has been filled with a what feels like 10 life times of hardship that have been almost impossible to overcome. Each day is filled with a new challenge and sometimes it’s hard to catch up.

A common sentiment from our first time volunteers is how being here for a while reminds you of all the things you should be thankful for.  This post is the last of a short series of stories from some of the many people we serve.  They are the result of a lot of the hard work that our two summer students Leah and Jessie did over the summer trying to connect with people and get more of their story.

Though each story is complex and different in its own unique way, each shares the same basic theme: no money, no food, and no other option. Fortunately House of Friendship is available to provide a limited amount of support, but it’s often not enough. Each day the patrons of our program are facing more problems than just not having enough food. Turning to food banks is just one of the few options for relief in many individuals’ lives. By accessing a food hamper they’ll have a few moments of peace before needing to worry about having enough food again. Maybe then they’ll have the time to focus on one of the many other struggles and challenges they’re facing in their lives.

What we hope you take away from each of these stories is a little spark of empathy and a desire to make at least a small change for the better in our community.  Consider volunteering, donating, or talking to people and politicians in the upcoming provincial election on October 6th.

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.

One mitten short of a pair

September 27, 2011

It’s not uncommon for some people to cycle in and out of our program. Often they have spurts of good luck where they’ve got a good job that leaves them with enough money to pay the bills. But then, just as each of our stories demonstrates, life throws some type of curveball to put them back to square one and in a place they never expected to be.

After 23 years of marriage my wife (Taylor) lost her battle with cancer. Losing her has been one of the hardest experiences I think I’ll ever face. I lost my mind for a while. With the grief of losing the love of my life and my best friend I barely want to get out of bed most days. But I’m slowly taking steps to re-building my life one piece at a time. I started going to counseling and got put on some medication to help my depression. This is helping me to accept that things will never be the same. It’s not easy to lose someone. Life doesn’t stop though. I’ve got to make the best out of the worst situation. Slowly I’m learning to cook, do laundry, and to clean the house while remembering to pay the bills. We were a great pair but now it’s just me.

Some days you probably come home wishing that the chaos would stop. Well what if it did? Think about it as if Taylor was your partner. You were there to drive to various appointments, carry them upstairs to bed at the end of the night when they’re too sick to walk, and been there to wipe away all the tears. Now who will wipe away your tears? Who will be there to support you through your struggle?

Not only does this situation put you in emotional turmoil but now you’re in financial stress. You’ve lost part of your income, since Taylor isn’t around to collect a pension anymore. Plus you’ve had additional expenses to cover the cost of the funeral, since you never had the money to save for it in the past.

Now your life has changed in a way that you never would have expected. You’re likely going to rely on food assistance and other social service programs until you can come to terms with the loss of your partner and figure out your finances again. It’s a big adjustment that you never wanted to plan for, but now you’re left without a choice. You’ve got to find a way to adjust to your new situation and pay the bills.

So in the mean time we’ll see you pass through our doors from time to time. We’ll hope that the food hamper will provide you with all the things you’re use to having available at home. And if not you’ll have to try to scrap together the money from somewhere, access another program, or simply go without. You know food banks are working on donations, which means sometimes certain items aren’t available. Either way you know it’s better to have some food than no food at all. That’s really your only choice in this situation; because let’s face it: the creditors and bills won’t stop just because your wife passed away. Instead you’re left to continue fighting to meet your basic needs and hoping that one day soon your struggle will come to an end.

Getting down to business

September 23, 2011

Ontario is a province with a wide variety of employment options for a number of people. Each day many people go in to work never thinking they’ll be injured. But as the statistics show, this reality is closer than many of us would think. Let’s take a second to look at some of the facts:

  • Annually about 300 people die and nearly 270 000 more file workers’ compensation claims due to a work related injury or illness. (Source)
  • Each year over 10 000 Ontarians under the age of 25 submit a claim after an injury leaves them unable to return to work for a few days. (Source)
  • In 2008 alone, Ontario reported 488 fatalities and 317 031 claims for work related injuries and illnesses to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). (Source)
  • The injury rates of workers may be much higher because many workers don’t bring the injury to the attention of their employer, or the employer doesn’t submit a claim to WSIB. (Source)

Unfortunately Ronald is living proof of these statistics. After an injury at work, he’s waiting for his claim to be approved by the WSIB board. So in the mean time he’s coming to our program for assistance. It’s likely that he’ll use the six visits we offer in a year within the next month or two; because his family is without an income for a few weeks and can’t wait that long to buy groceries.

I’m a father and husband to a family of five. When people learn that I’m using a food bank they always ask “how did that happen?” or look at me wondering why I can’t find a job to provide for my family. Well I was working at a factory and had 800 pounds of product fall on me. Now I’m lucky to be alive; but it hasn’t been easy. It took the doctors eight years before they realized that the intense pain in my back meant that it was broken. No one would believe me, so it was hard to get any type of compensation. I struggled to convince the doctors that there was something wrong…and when they finally got the medical proof they needed, I was immediately booked in for a surgery. After that my back healed to the point that I was able to continue working at a different job. But as my luck should have it, I had another accident at work and here we are again. As hard as I try to put food on the table, something eventually gets in the way. Then we need to come here for a food hamper until we can figure out where our next paycheck is coming from.

Put yourself into Ronald’s shoes, this is your story now.  After your accident you aren’t even able to work light duty at any of your old jobs. Each one was very labour intensive and your employers are less than understanding. As a result you have now burned through the little amount of vacation pay you had accumulated; and neither job gave any paid sick days so now you have no income.

On top of this your extended family doesn’t support your decision to not return to work after your injuries. Many of them stopped visiting over a year ago because they didn’t want to hear you complain about the injury the doctors couldn’t find. To date, no one has responded to any calls or emails that the doctors finally discovered your back was actually broken.

What do you do? How many weeks could you go without a paycheck? Who would you turn to for help?

It is no surprise that Ronald was directed to our program for assistance. But his family will likely need help paying for school supplies, buying the kids clothes, and paying their rent at the end of the month. So to do all of this Ronald now has a new “job”. His job is to shuffle through the phone book and talk to a variety of people who will point him in various directions to find the services and support he needs to get through this difficult time. Though he may use the 211 services to find the right direction, he’ll still be left at the end of the day with a stack of papers from a variety of social service agencies that he’s come in contact with. And his family can only hope that each agency visit will bring them another step closer to the end of this unfortunate limbo between incomes.

Where it all begins

September 13, 2011

Take a second to imagine this situation:

You walk up to your car to find everything is thrown around. Sadly your car has been broken into. Even more distressing is that you left your wallet, which contains all your identification and a few hundred dollars that you just took out of the bank to pay some bills and buy some groceries. You only left for a brief minute to drop something off to a friend; but it was long enough to throw your life for a loop. Though you wish you could start putting this behind you and go to the bank to pull out more money, there isn’t any left. That money was all you had left between now and your next paycheck that’s over a week away.

Unfortunately this “imaginary” situation actually happened to Andrew.

Andrew in the middle of a streak of bad luck. He’s already borrowed money from his family to cover his bills a few months ago. His family didn’t want to give him the money; but also didn’t want to see him on the streets. They agreed to help him just that once. He’s asked for money since and been turned away each time with the advice to work harder or manage his money better.

Because money has been tight for Andrew he’s drifted away from some of his friends. They always want to go out for dinner, a movie, or golfing – nothing that Andrew can afford after paying his bills. He still knows that he’s got debts to repay to his family, and also some of his friends. However of the one or two friends he does still manage to stay in touch with, they often ask him to loan them cash from time-to-time, which he knows they’ll never be able to pay back.

So now what does he do when there’s no one to fall back on? His current job isn’t giving over-time so there’s no way for him to get ahead. He’s put out resumes to take on a part-time job but no one is willing to hire him. And switching jobs isn’t much of an option because he can’t wait a few weeks for another paycheck starts, let alone, take the time off work to go to an interview. Thus coming here for food assistance is Andrew’s last resort.

When your expenses don’t go as planned, or you encounter a situation you didn’t expect, food budgets suffer first. Food is the one expense that doesn’t have a fixed value. Though you know how much money it takes to feed yourself or your family for a week, it doesn’t mean that the amount of money is always available. Therefore it’s not surprising that a significant number of people accessing our program carefully plan out their six visits a year in their food budget.

Stories like Andrews are in abundance at our program. Though the beginning of the story is different for everyone, where it all ends is the same: here, or a similar program.

This post is the beginning to a series. Each story and person is connected to the same basic problem: no money, no food, and no other option. Next in the series Matt will talk about our intake process and what it actually looks like to get a hamper. Following that we’ll provide you with a few more glimpses of the many beginnings that bring people into a situation of needing food assistance. By the end you’ll probably be surprised at how many similarities you have with Andrew, or any of the other stories that we’ll highlight.

Snapshot of Hunger

September 8, 2011

Statistics are one way that food banks try to communicate the demand for food assistance to the public. To calculate statistics food banks pull information from some of the questions that are typically asked when people come in to access our services. (To read about the questions we ask in our intake process, click here).

Calculating statistics is a complicated process that takes a bit of time and a lot of formulas. But it’s all worthwhile when you can share the results because many people have no idea how high our numbers go each day or the similarities that more than 130 families can have in a single day when you break down the small facts. For example one of the statistics that really impacts me to think about is that throughout 2010 approximately 37 percent, or 25 492 people who were assisted with food were under the age of 18.

That’s a significant number of people, which is why it’s important for us to share these numbers so that the community is aware of who needs help. Aside from sharing these numbers on our blog, many of the staff and volunteers will share any number of our statistics with a variety of people who we talk to about our program. These are the two ways we generally share our statistics, because we don’t have a formal report or document that we publish anywhere. However some programs do take the time to create a report, such as the Snapshot of Hunger report done by the Daily Bread Food Bank.

While looking through the report they compiled I found it interesting to see the similarities between the statistics we’re both calculating for the patrons accessing our programs. Many of our patrons would also fit the demographics that the Daily Bread Food Bank is encountering in the GTA region.

However it’s hard to know for sure how similar our patrons are because the Daily Bread Food Bank asks some more in-depth questions than we do here. Although by doing this they get a better picture of some of the barriers and challenges that people are facing in low-income households, which can leave you with a lot to think about.

Personally I spent a lot of time reflecting on the Hunger portion of the report because I was saddened to read a lot of those statistics, such as “forty percent of adults go hungry at least once per week” when we live in such a wealthy country. Even though I interact with people here every day that are in this same situation, it still doesn’t get any easier to hear that so many people cannot afford to have a nutritiously balanced diet. Also it’s not easy to face the facts that approximately half of the people accessing food assistance are single people.

Another statistic that their report shared is about income. Income can be an important piece for food assistance because some food hamper programs operate on a means test that calculates how many hampers a household is eligible for based on their income. Though neither of our programs request to know a dollar amount for those who are accessing food assistance, we do ask to know what type of income the household is receiving.

The two most common income responses are Ontario works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The Daily Bread Food Bank reports that approximately 67 percent of their patrons are receiving social assistance, while our program states that approximately 37% are on Ontario Works. And approximately 45 percent of food bank patrons are receiving ODSP. One of the main reasons this is so significant is because the demand for our services by people receiving these types of income assistant programs will only continue to grow as commodity prices continue to rise faster than the payment increases for people receiving financial assistance does. This is a startling statistic that the report publishes to keep people aware of the challenges that people receiving food assistance are facing.

One of the final statistics in the report focuses on housing, which is a big challenge for people living in lower incomes for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest challenges is affordability. Many individuals accessing food banks are living on fixed incomes and with rising prices of rent and other utilities it can be increasingly challenging to find something adequate in size and affordable. Some of the patrons to the Daily Bread Food Bank spend approximately 72 percent of their income on rent and utilities – with a median monthly income of $925. If you want to show your support to make a change in this area, please click here to add your name to the call for an Ontario Housing Benefit.

Showing your support to increase the availability of affordable housing is one way to promote a better future for people in low-income households. But if adding your name to the call for a housing benefit isn’t your thing, there are still a number of things you can do. You can stay educated; you can share the stories you hear about the people in need; and you can talk to your local government to make changes. Then perhaps one day many of these statistical reports can be put to the history books instead of the newspapers.

Global conversation about food

September 1, 2011

“Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and one of our most basic human rights. It’s important we all get involved in the debate about how to change the global food system so everyone has enough to eat today and in the future.” – Raymond Offenheiser, President of Oxfam. (Source)

This quote comes from an article posted on Oxfam that looks at an independent study done by GlobeScan that was collected from 17 countries around the world and a total of over 16 000 people. Each person was asked about their dietary habits and if anything has changed over the years because of the rising food prices, health changes, or any other influential factors.

Oxfam released this study on their website as part of their GROW campaign. This campaign is dedicated to promoting a better future for everyone, which starts by supporting solutions to solving hunger issues, and encouraging government to get involved in preserving resources or creating better policies. Basically the campaign is looking for people to get motivated NOW; instead of when the next disaster occurs. Their goal is to change things for the better, before food insecure situations get any worse. (Click here if you’re interested in joining their campaign.)

One of the results discussed in the survey looks at the fact that many people, in both rich and poor countries, are already reducing the quality and quantities of food they consume. As food prices continue to rise many people can no longer afford some of the foods they previously enjoyed in the past. Instead people in poorer countries are often accommodating to food prices by eating less food overall, eating cheaper food items, or eating a less varied diet. The study noted that women, specifically mothers, tend to change their eating habits more than other family members. You can read about this in more detail by clicking here.

There are a variety of reasons why many people are beginning to change the types and quantities of the foods that they typically consume. All of these are outlined in more detail in the article. However there are a few statistics that I want to share with you because I find them very interesting:

  • Percentage of people who have changed their diet because of rising food prices: 39% globally and 31% in the US.
  • Percentage of people who have altered their diet for health reasons: 33% globally and 49% in the US.
  • Percentage of people who are worried about the rising costs of food: 66% globally and 73% of those in the US.
  • Percentage of people who said that they sometimes, rarely or never had enough to eat on a regular basis: 20% of people globally and 8% of Americans.

Overall our statistics aren’t far off from many of the other countries in the world. Food prices and food security are an increasingly troublesome problem for a wider variety of people. You may remember some of the previous posts that we did on rising food prices back in May and June – but click here if you missed them.

Well to no ones surprise this is still a current issue in the news and something that I’m sure we’ll continue to experience as uncertainty about the global economy continues. Though food is necessary for human survival, we still have a long way to go to ensure equal access for everyone. Until we can find a solution to this long-term issue, food banks will continue to work diligently to provide all these individuals with a few days of food to help them temporarily overcome one of their many challenges.

Right to Food

August 26, 2011

Most people will have heard of the United Nations.  Especially if you watch the news.  I’m not sure if as many people will have heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.   Even fewer have probably heard of the Rome Declaration on Food Security and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.

What are these documents and what do they mean?  In a perfect world they commit the countries that have signed them (which Canada has) to address the needs of their residents and ensure that their human rights are protected and promoted.

What are human rights?  That’s a big question.  I encourage you to read through the links above and try and get a handle on how important they are.  Ones that you may be familiar with are freedom of expression, freedom of thought and freedom of opinion.  These are the rights that we all enjoy in Canada every day. You enjoy them every day you open a newspaper, talk to your neighbours about politics and make choices on who to vote for and how you live your life.

Is food a human right?  It’s pretty hard to live your life without food.  Of all the human rights, food is one of biggest and most important.  It is difficult to enjoy your other rights if you’re starving.

If you read this blog, a newspaper or watch the news, you will probably realize that these documents are all great on paper, but in practice we’ve still got a long haul ahead of us as a Country and a global community. We say we’re committed to overcoming hunger, but yet there are still many people who go to bed hungry everyday: in this country and across the world.

The above picture is taken from one of the nineteen artists that contributed to the “Just Food” exhibit that is being displayed through the support and faith inspired efforts of the Mennonite Central Committee Ontario (MCCO). Some of you may be aware of this exhibit, since it’s been open since early July. But if you have yet to go, it’s not too late! The exhibit will be available until September 27 at Conrad Grebel University College anytime Monday to Friday between 9am to 7pm, or through alternative arrangements. (Click here for a map to the college.)

The inspiration for this event is to encourage people to remember that though we’ve stated hunger is not acceptable in many formal documents, we’ve still got a long way to go to make this a reality.

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food.” – Article 25 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Food is a central part of our lives: it’s part of survival and it’s also something that is often prepared to bring people together in celebration. Though as human beings we need to eat to survive, in today’s society we’re not always guaranteed access to affordable and nutritious food for various reasons.

Food banks are living proof of this: once a temporary solution to overcome (what was thought to be) a short-term problem, many of these programs need to expand their warehouses to keep up with the demands of service that they face each week, day and year. Things have yet to get better as many Canadians continue to struggle to meet their daily needs, or encounter unexpected circumstances that throw their life and finances for a loop.

To give you a better idea as to how high our numbers have been, and show some of the factors that may be contributing to high demands for food assistance, lets look at some of the statistics about food banks.

  • In the last twenty years our program hasn’t served under 20 000 hampers each year.
  • Each year our program assists approximately 9 500 households with food. (And we only cover Kitchener-Waterloo. To see a list with some of the Cambridge food assistance programs, click here.)
  • We are one of over 70 member agencies of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region, which means that there are a lot of agencies responding to the communities need for food assistance.
  • Approximately half the households who we provided food to last year relied on Ontario works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) as a source of income. People working full-time, part-time, or odd jobs followed as the next highest group at approximately 16 percent.

So hopefully you can take a break to visit the hunger exhibit. Because as it’s recently been said, and will be said again, hunger and food banks are something that need to come to an end. (To read an article about closing food banks, click here.) Your effort to become more educated is one of the first steps to making this happen; and this event is a fun way to take that first step.

In the coming weeks we will share a few more of the stories of the people who have turned to us for a helping hand. In the meantime, enjoy the food for thought at Conrad Grebel.