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October 4, 2012

Thanksgiving Vigil to Eradidate Poverty

People from faith communities across Ontario gathered for Thanksgiving vigils today. We gave thanks for the abundance we have in Ontario. But we also asked why it is that so many of our neighbours do not share in that abundance.

I attended the vigil in Waterloo Region. Here is a reflection offered by Matt Cooper, the Program Coordinator for the House of Friendship's Emergency Food Hamper Program. (Matt could not actually attend the vigil. He was busy preparing and delivering thanksgiving food hampers. But he sent this reflection to be read the vigil.)

It is challenging to summarize the current situation and the last 9 months of this year.  Many words come to mind.  
 
The need we have seen so far has been enormous.  Each day we see an average of 140 families and individuals.  Each week and month, the people who ask us for help manage to find a way to survive and put their best face forward with a little help from our volunteers, and other community supports.  At the end of September our volunteers finished sharing the 25,731st food hamper of the year.  This is the most food hampers we have had to share so far at this point of the year in our history as a program.  When we lock up for the night on the 31st of December it is very likely that we will have broken all previous records of food distribution at House of Friendship.
 
When someone turns to us for help, our volunteers walk a path through our warehouse and assemble the food for them based on their diet, family composition and health concerns.  To walk this path once is approximately 20 meters.  Thanks to the generous donations of the community and the hard work of program partners like the Food Bank of Waterloo Region at each step there is fruit, vegetables, pasta and other staple items. Often questions, special requests and other issues lengthen this journey.  Our goal is to provide short term emergency support to people a few times a year.  This is the most we have resources to do. At the bare minimum, our volunteers in their journey of sharing 25,731 hampers have walked over 500km this year as they circled through our warehouse putting them together.  As a coincidence, that is approximately the distance between Kitchener and Ottawa, our nation’s capital.
 
While it is comforting to know that there is sufficient generosity to ensure that there is food for the 25,731 hampers we have done and the hampers that the many other organizations in our community like churches, community centre’s and community meal programs have done as well, the demand is greater than the ability to meet it.
 
If our volunteers and staff did decide to walk to Ottawa or Queens park (which we could have done five times there and back) we could share the story of how poverty has long term consequences for peoples health.  That poverty is often a near constant state of crisis, that hunger is in more neighborhoods that you would think and that building bigger charities or continuing to look for greater quantities of food donations is not a good long term choice.  Investing in people and ensuring they have an adequate income first and foremost is the best path to walk down as a society.

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