This year because of you amazing things happened! You made a huge impact in the lives of people in your community that didn’t have enough food to eat! Your donations, food drives, volunteering and support provided an incredible amount of food to people in Toronto! Thank you!
The Average Agency is volunteer run & has limited resources. This year your funds helped us invest in 4 agencies to increase food, enhance client services & empower agencies to serve their community better.
Have you ever wondered what it is like to volunteer at your local food bank? We talked with Madelaine, a North York Harvest volunteer to find out.
Madelaine has been volunteering ever since she was 14, an example learned from her mother. Once Madelaine retired, she started looking for a volunteer position in her community. She was thrilled to know NYH was right in her neighbourhood. Madelaine knows of the struggles of not having enough to eat. During World War II in Germany, her parents sometimes did not have enough food available.
I asked her about any surprises she had when she first started working in the food bank, and there definitely were a few. She was taken aback to see that so many people in her own backyard do not have enough to eat. She also noticed the lack of community space for programs, “It’s unfortunate that the city doesn’t provide a free location for the food bank,” she says. With over 13,000 individuals using North York Harvest’s services each month we work really hard to ensure there is space for all our programs.
Volunteering is obviously a very important aspect of Madelaine’s life, “Everyone works together as a team. We work hard. I am tired by the end of my shift but I find it quite rewarding.” But I couldn’t help but ask her how she stays motivated to keep coming week after week. She told me she volunteers with the food bank because of her love of helping people and being able to interact with the clients, volunteers and staff. Because the people that use the food bank services are right in Madelaine’s neighbourhood, she sees many of them outside of her volunteering. “I run into a lot of clients. Most of them stop and talk with me on the street or at the mall.”
As a longtime food bank volunteer, Madelaine sees first-hand what kinds of foods are needed the most. Most people need milk and vegetables, though both can run low come the end of the month.
A typical food hamper from a NYH food bank
As different people have many dietary needs, she does tend to get special requests. Many people ask for Kosher, Halal or vegetarian foods. Madelaine has got to know many of these clients well and does her best to help them if she can. “Most of the food is donated so we only have what we get, but if we have it, I will give it to them,” she told me with a smile.
Though it can be tough to realize many people don’t have enough to eat, Madelaine can see the silver lining in the kindness of others. She recalls a time it was near the end of her shift and she had given the last bag of rolls to a woman. The last client of the shift came in right after and Madelaine had let that person know that unfortunately, they were out of bread. “The woman who had the last package of rolls offered them to the other client. The other client insisted that they share. I was very touched.”
Madelaine’s philosophy in life is to treat people the way she would like to be treated. She also believes that people should volunteer their time at organizations like North York Harvest because they couldn’t exist without volunteers. “We all need to help each other.”
When asked what one could do if they didn’t have time to volunteer? “They can donate!” says Madelaine immediately. “Food, or especially money so we can buy the food we need the most.”
Here at North York Harvest we appreciate our many volunteers that assist with every aspect of the organization. It really does ‘take a village’ and we couldn’t run without you. If you are interested in volunteering, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to help but are too busy right now to volunteer? No problem. Donate securely online and we will ensure that money goes to helping the clients that Madelaine serves so faithfully.
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When you picture a trip to a food bank, you probably don’t envision the most pleasant experience. And hey, that’s fair. While food banks are a vital community service, accessing them can sometimes be an embarrassing and anxiety inducing experience. To deal with this reality, North York Harvest, and food banks around Canada are investing in a model that helps make the experiencing of coming to a food bank more empowering and dignified for the participant.
For the answers I went to Aja Peterson, North York Harvest’s Agency Development Coordinator who has been championing the choice model for many years and as part of North York Harvest’s Agency Investment Project. The program, generously funded by Trillium, the RBC Foundation and individual donors like you, is a three year pilot project designed to build the capacity of our member agencies and ensure that agency clients are receiving the most dignified service, are being connected to other support systems in the community, and are able to focus on their lives without worrying where their next meal will come from. The choice model aligns with all of these goals, making it a natural fit for agencies participating in the project.
“I think at its core the choice model helps people to better understand each other” Aja told me. “It breaks down stereotypes, and creates a more empowering environment, which is one of the Agency Investment Projects main objectives.”
Over the last few months Aja has been hard at work helping North York Harvest member agency Room to Grow Food Bank make the switch to the choice model. Operating out of Westway United Church, Room to Grow partners with the Room to Grow Child Centre, and serves low-income residents in the Central Etobicoke area.
When participants arrive at Room to Grow, rather than receiving a box of pre-picked items, they are encouraged to put together their own food hamper which will suit their own cultural and health requirements. The process has gone a long way towards empowering participants, but how has it worked for food bank staff and volunteers?
“Like any change, it was a bit scary at first, but the volunteers at Room to Grow were so receptive to new ideas, and really supported the transition to the choice model”, said Aja said.“They tell me all the time how great it is to interact with their fellow community members and how they are building more meaningful relationships, getting more face-to-face time with participants, and getting to know their stories and more about their families”.
Of course beyond volunteer adoption, there are many other factors that go into choice model integration. A project of this size requires capital, space, training, shelves, purchased food and staff support, which necessitates a large investment of time, resources and money. This is why we continue to look to your donations, as they ensure that programs like the choice model will continue to thrive.
When I ask Aja if she’s noticed any changes at Room to Grow since the transition she seems thrilled with the progress.
“Before the switch to the new model the division between the participants and volunteers was very pronounced. All the food was behind dividers which made the room feel dark and cramped, and bit suspicious because you couldn’t really see what was going on behind the walls. Now we’ve taken down the dividers and the room feels brighter, warmer and more welcoming. We have more space to walk around and it really feels like a community hub, rather then a waiting room.”
“Room to Grow is doing so well”, she continued. “They have the capacity, the right attitude and are really working hard to make sure that this project is successful.
Choice model food banks like Room to Grow aren’t just making the food bank experience more empowering, they are helping to build community and connection out of a very tough situation. We at North York Harvest know that the choice model is the best thing for our member agencies and hope that this system will become a staple of our organization.
What can you do to help? Help agencies like Room to Grow by making a donation today. Your support will enable NYH to continue investing in our agencies, providing training, building capacity like new shelves, storage or fridges as well as contribute to acquiring better food, which ensures that our participants have a greater variety of fresh and healthy food to choose from.
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This might sound a little strange, but I really like going grocery shopping. I know that the parking lots can be crazy, and the check-out lines can be long, but I find the whole experience strangely soothing. Seriously! Like most people I have my own little routine. Essentials first; milk, veggies, eggs, bread, juice, and then depending on how I’m feeling, I’ll move onto something more adventurous; maybe a nice curry for dinner, a catch of the day fish, or some ingredients for baking. It might not seem like a big thing in the moment, but you have to admit, it is an empowering and comforting feeling, knowing that there’s a place where we can so easily get the foods that we like, and build a meal that suits our lifestyle. Being in control of your food feels great.
Unfortunately, many of our neighbours in Toronto don’t always get to feel that type of freedom or independence when it comes to what they eat. With the cost of living in Toronto sky rocketing, and unemployment still high, a trip to the grocery store is a luxury many of our community members often can’t afford. Luckily, thanks to your donations, organizations like North York Harvest Food Bank are able to ensure that just because many people might not be able to purchase everything they want, doesn’t mean that they can’t have access to good food in a dignified and personal way.
The “choice model” food bank is a relatively new idea that over the last few years has become a much more common practice at food banks around Toronto. The idea is really simple. Rather than receiving a box of pre-picked items, participants at choice model food banks are given more of a marketplace experience. With the help of a food bank volunteer they are taken past the shelves of food and encouraged to put together their own hamper of items that they know their family will like, and that will meet their dietary or cultural requirements.
“The choice model is an important step for food banks to take, because the right to choose is such an important part of dignity”, says Mike Bartlett, our summer intern and Masters of Social Work candidate at York University. “The choice model empowers our community members to make the choices that they know will be right for their families. Volunteers aren’t left to guess what a family might need.”
Switching over to a choice model, can take what might often be a very rigid process, and turn it into an experience that lays the foundation for real social change through community growth and development. Food assistance becomes a more collaborative process, with participants and volunteers working together to put together food baskets and plan their weekly meals. Allowing the participants to become part of process not only creates a more dignified experience for them, but also fosters discussion, trust and meaningful relationship building.
Participants also seem to favour the system, as it allows them to pick and choose depending on their families’ needs. For some people pasta might be just what they’re looking for, while for others it might be rice or quinoa. Most importantly, if they don’t want something, they can leave it and it stays on the shelf for someone else to enjoy.