RESTAURANT OF THE HEART
There are thousands of London & area residents that do not have enough food to sustain themselves. No way you say: not in our affluent society of Mercedes and country clubs.
We are living in a new era with a two tiered system of economics. We have endured downsizing, part time full time work, cuts in Social Assistance with many families having to exist below the poverty line.
The government has cut the monthly income of a family with two children living on welfare from $1,549 a month by $335. a twenty percent decrease for those in need.
In the London area there are 12,000 families on welfare, 14,000 receive family benefits and 10,000 survive on EI.
Add it up and there are 36,000 recipients in need of help.
What do you do when you need some food to sustain you for a few days? The networks of social assistance agencies refers the hungry to the London & Area Food Bank.
When I wrote for the Londoner I called Jane Roy, Assistant Director who graciously granted me an interview. The entrance to the “Bank” bears little relationship to their charted cousins plush money marbled institutions. The building was a rather plain warehouse with loading docks. When you walk inside you are greeted warmly and asked how you can be helped. There is a poster with a large heart with the inscription, “Restaurant of the Heart, To love is to love others.”
Jane Roy, a small petite women, with a firm handshake took me upstairs to answer all of my questions. Besides working at the food bank she spends her time trying to reclaim slaves in the Sudan. The food bank started in 1987 by a couple of welfare recipients and now serves the needs of 2,200 families a month feeding a total of 6,000 individuals.
The families are registered and are allowed to access the emergency aid once a month. The stats show that the majority do not abuse the system, 40% come once a year, 76% four times a year or less and only 2% use the plan on a monthly basis.
Who are the recipients of the aid? No they are not down and out drifters, drunks and bums. They are like you and I, 70% had graduated from high school, 50% had some post secondary education. Only one per cent of our seniors use the program, sadly the majority of the clients are under forty years of age.
Because of the poor economic climate in London/ St Thomas this year unemployment in the manufacturing sector has been hard hit with many thousands of workers unemployed. There has been a 20% increase in people who are accessing the system. More then one-third of the hampers helped feed children and youth
Many college/university students are receiving help to tide them over when they come to receive assistance on Saturday morning.
The clients show their ID card, check in to the computer system and answer some simple questions, number of dependents, allergies or restricted diets because of religion or lifestyle. John, Mary with little children by their side wait patiently for their paper bag of food to be delivered to the waiting room.
There are special needs that are whispered; shampoo, razors, detergent, toothpaste and toilet paper. The volunteers scurry to fill the orders and the 100-200 individuals a day leave with a thank you and a wave.
As I observed the plight of my fellow man the quote from John Bradford reminded me “But for the grace of God go I” Someday it could be me or a loved one who needs a helping hand.
The bags of food consist of bread, bagels, frozen and canned vegetables, meat, cereals and soup. Milk and eggs are expensive and are only available half the time.
The Bank goes through an amazing 1.07 million pounds of food a year worth in excess of two million dollars. The food is donated and delivered by Kellogg, Lewis Bread, National Grocers, Ault Dairies, Cosco and Strathroy Foods.
There are many special people that make the whole system work. Brian, a concert pianist, is one of the three paid staff members who has been with the program since the start, He enjoys helping his fellow man; “the organization runs on spirit, good fellowship and giving.” Debbie is a happy smiling receptionist and client who volunteers her time to pay back the help she has received from the agency. It is hard to get by as a single parent of two children . Howard is the congenial host and greeter with lots of repartee and good humour to entertain the clients and staff. People have a need of both sustenance and humour when times are tough.
The Girl Guides, Optimists, Church groups, schools and many others donate their time and energy to help. The qualifications are simple, a little time and a desire to make a difference. Sorting food, making packages or working the computer all helps. Please take the time to volunteer to fill a grocery bag. Your non perishable items/ checks are needed to help others.
You can get in- touch with the food bank: firstname.lastname@example.org phone 519- 659-4045, 926 Leathorne Street, London, Ont.,N5Z 3M5