Applications now being accepted for Holiday Food Hamper program
Mike Lawrence - Staff Writer
It’s that time of year again. The Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre (NGFC) is once again offering its Holiday Food Hamper program to families in need this holiday season. And as Program Manager Ashely Edwards explained, the need is greater now than ever. “Every year, the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre provides food hampers to approximately 100 low-income families just to help make Christmas a special time. With COVID-19, everything has just been so hard for people and so unpredictable, so we’re expecting this year to probably almost double the number of hampers that we have provided in the past. We’ve been supplying food support hampers to the community throughout the pandemic, and we really became aware at that time how much food insecurity there is within our community, so we loosened up the parameters that we normally require for people to receive a Christmas hamper.”
Statistics Canada describes food insecurity as “the inability to access a sufficient quantity or variety of food because of financial constraints”. A StatsCan Health Report released December 16, 2020 (https://bit.ly/3qTNbeW) found “consistent evidence that household food insecurity is associated with lower diet quality and a variety of physical health problems, including elevated risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. A growing number of studies have also documented links between food insecurity and adverse mental health outcomes, such as higher rates of depression, stress and anxiety, and poor self-perceived mental health.”
That’s where programs like the Friendship Centre’s Holiday Food Hamper program come in.
When a family wants to be added to the hamper list, the process is fairly straight forward. As Edwards explained, “We will have applications here at the Friendship Centre if people want to come pick one up. We also have a voicemail phone number that people can call and leave a message, and then we will call them back and do an application over the phone with them. We do require some income information but we don’t require income verification, so we do ask a bit about people’s personal situations that they are dealing with, but at the same time we are trying very hard to not build barriers for families. We want to make this more accessible for everyone. We will be accepting hamper applications until the 10th of December.”
Families who do sign up can expect to receive all they should need to make a nice holiday meal for themselves and their family. As Edwards stated, “Our hampers contain a full-size turkey, bread, milk, eggs, stuffing, potatoes, onions, sugar, flour… anything and everything to help a family create a wonderful Christmas meal for themselves as well as a few extra perishables. Just to help get through the holiday and so that no one is needing to worry about food. Many people have lost their jobs, and others are struggling to find a job now. With all the restrictions and issues, we really are just trying to do whatever we can to bring that little bit of joy to people at Christmas.”
The process the Friendship Centre has relied on in the past for gathering hamper food items has become somewhat more complicated due to COVID as well.
“Pre-COVID what we used to do is we used to put boxes in different organizations around town and people could put non-perishable food items in them,” Edwards continued. “Businesses would have internal competitions and they kind of made it fun. We also worked in partnership with the schools, so the schools would have food drives in the classrooms, and whichever classroom gathered the most food, we supplied them with a pizza party. It was a big hit! Those kids were so creative, the stuff they came up with had the most amazing decorations and creativity. A large portion of our food donations would come from the schools at that time. Whatever we didn’t get from donations we would call and put in an order with Fresh Market Foods or Giant Tiger. We have a wonderful relationship with Fresh Market and Giant Tiger… they have really supported us during our food drives.”
“Now, of course, just because of the way COVID is, it’s not really recommended that people be touching cans and passing stuff around. We are trying to keep health and safety at the forefront of what we are doing,” Edwards added.
As always, the Friendship Centre is happy to take monetary donations, but stresses the need for them to keep cash handling to a minimum. As such, it is preferable to make any monetary donations in the form of a cheque. As Edwards points out, “We do encourage people to help. If they do want to support the program, that would be wonderful. Our Executive Director (Jennifer Thomas) usually sends out letters to businesses as well to see if they would like to support our food drive. It really is a community initiative… the community, the businesses, it’s everyone working together. But the bulk of our foodstuffs that are going into our hampers this year, we are needing to purchase. I’m thinking that while we normally do just over a hundred (food hampers), I’m fully expecting us to do closer to 200 this year, just taking into consideration how many families utilized our Emergency Support Program throughout the last year.”
Edwards adds that despite the hard work, it’s worth it in the end. “I’ve worked at the Friendship Centre for six years now and this is my favorite time of year at the centre. Just bringing everybody their meals and seeing the happy faces… just to spread that joy its indescribable. It definitely is the best time of year around here!”
Families in need of support this holiday season, or individuals/businesses wishing to assist the program, are encouraged to reach out to the Nishnawbe-Gamik Friendship Centre by phone at (807) 738-4671 or by email at [email protected].