House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper Program
April 18th, 2017Stories
A Place to Help, A Place to Belong
by Darin White
“This is my family.” So said volunteer Pat McCandless at the House of Friendship’s Food Hamper distribution centre on Guelph Street in Kitchener. The Food Bank of Waterloo Region raises money and collects food, but it depends on more than eighty partners like House of Friendship to put that food into the hands of people who need it.
Hi, it’s Darin White here doing a little guest storytelling for The Food Bank. I was privileged to sit down for a chat with Pat and found her to be a strong ambassador for the effort. In addition to volunteering three days a week at the centre, Pat has herself been helped by the program when health problems made it difficult for her to make ends meet. A year and a half of volunteering with HOF has made Pat an informed tour guide for this program and she took me all through the newly-expanded distribution centre. Thank you to the staff and volunteers who agreed to be photographed so I can share a behind- the-scenes look at this important effort.
An important thing to keep in mind is that The Food Bank is community supported. The people and businesses of Waterloo Region give food donations, money, gifts of equipment or services and volunteer effort and that makes it happen. What can you give?
Pat: “This is a good place to be. I used to donate food to the Food Bank. It was strange how I came here. I came here one time getting a hamper and something inside told me to talk to somebody [about volunteering]. So I talked to Jessie. I think he was surprised because usually the people that come here want to be packers or to stock shelves. Me, I’ve volunteered at the Humane Society, Dream Centre and Ray of Hope, but I was cleaning. I’ve been cleaning for 35 years, so I know what I’m doing.
I’m glad I’m here. I have health issues, so there are days when I can’t come in because I’m in a lot of pain. I’m here Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. When I make it. And I love it. When it’s the weekend I always say ‘Is it Monday yet?’ I take my job very seriously and I’m very fussy. I work my butt off. I’ve worked hard all my life.
I greet the people. I just love the people. Sometimes just a smile or ‘hi’ will make someone’s day. I like to keep busy, but they keep reminding me ‘did you take a break yet?’”
DW: What makes you work so hard at it?
Pat: “I’m not even this thorough anymore with my own place, but here it’s different. Here there are people and there’s food. In a place like this it’s got to be clean or you’ve got problems. I’m getting compliments from even the people who come in here. I said ‘If you keep doing that I’m going to end up with a fat head.’“
DW: Why would people need an emergency hamper of food?
Pat: “I can usually tell. It’s either somebody who just lost a job or it could be for any kind of reason, really. They just don’t have the food. They have enough to pay their rent. There are a lot of families that come in here. I don’t know how they manage.“
DW: Do you see people who come in who may be new to Canada?
Pat: “Yes, there are quite a few. They don’t quite speak English and they don’t know how it works. We don’t refuse anybody. There’s a guy that comes in here every day just to get a newspaper.“
DW: So maybe in addition to food, this place is an anchor in the community?
Pat: “I pay close attention to the look on their face. A lot of people have their head down and I can tell they just don’t want to be here. That’s exactly how I felt. Some people think it’s degrading. I said ‘Put yourself in their shoes. What are you going to do? Are you going to get help where there’s help to go
to?’ I’m making a difference. I love what I do. I love the volunteers and I love all the staff here. That’s what matters, because I know I’m making a difference.”
DW: You said some people don’t want to come here. What’s behind that?
Pat: “Fear. Judgement. Rejection. I felt all that.”
DW: Some might never think they would need a food hamper, but things come up. What would you want people to know about the program?
Pat: “I believe it brings comfort and gives them dignity. If they want to talk to somebody here [we] just take them aside. I’ve seen some people come in here crying. And I ask if somebody would like me to talk with that person but somebody already has. I’m nosy.”
DW: It sounds like you care.
Pat: “Let’s put it this way: I’m always hearing the words ‘being mindful’ and I ask what does that mean? And a person told me ‘being aware of your surroundings’. And I thought ‘I do that.’ I observe and I watch.”
DW: How does the hamper program work?
Pat: “If somebody is coming in here for the first time, they do require ID and how many people are in the family. They give you a list of stuff to mark off. If you only need certain things. They ask if you have allergies. And then the people in the back, they pack it.
[When your hamper is ready] they call the number and they come and pick it up. There’s a little box where if you don’t want something or you can’t eat it, you put it in the box and then they put it back [on the shelf]. “
DW: What would you wish for the hamper program?
Pat: “That they never run out of stuff. That people will give from their hearts and know how important it is. Some people have come in here and said they had a good job in an office… in today’s time you’re lucky if you have a job.”
DW: Anything else you would like to add, Pat?
Pat: “I see The Food Bank in a different way than when I first came here. I thought they were only about food. Like this place. But it’s much more than that.”
I asked Pat if I could take a few photos and if she would show me around the place so we could figure out a good place for that. Off to the warehouse we went.