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K-D Shortage Anything But A Small Potatoes Issue
By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
WELLAND – Hope Centre’s executive director was “somewhat shocked” when he learned last month the agency’s food bank was out of Kraft Dinner.
Jon Braithwaite, at Hope Centre since 2018, can’t recall this happening previously.
“Not in my time,” he said.
He broke the news at a social March 9 for Julia’s Hope Cup volunteers when asked by Paul Turner to share a few words about the agency’s work and challenges.
It may seem like small potatoes to some, but not to Braithwaite.
A steady increase in the number of people visiting Hope Centre is cited as a cause of recent runs on food stocks like K-D.
“Last November was the most we’ve ever seen, but we passed that in February.”
Despite the agency being open only 17 days in February, it recorded 1,213 visits at the food bank.
That was a short month in number of days open because of the Family Day holiday, a weather-related closure, and a flood in the building due to a malfunctioning hot water tank.
Increased demand for food can be attributed to a large jump in the number of first-time, new visitors showing up for assistance and also a spike in the number of children being served, Braithwaite said.
Comparing this March to March of 2022, Braithwaite expected last year’s total to be surpassed by the end of the week. He was interviewed Monday, March 13.
A consequence of the growing demand for food by clients: food bank staff are having to dip into boxes designated for 2024.
“We’re using more pasta intended for use in 2024, when we should be using it that year or at earliest, later this year.”
The agency’s share of non-perishables collected in last fall’s city-wide food drive has been depleted, said Braithwaite. In past years, that food bonanza would last until sometime in April. But it was gone in early February, said Braithwaite.
The number of boxes marked ‘2023’ on them is becoming fewer, also a cause for concern.
“We have a few on our shelves. This is when you have to pause and say, ‘what do you do when you run out of things you always have on hand?’ That’s a challenge.”
Cost of living increases are blamed for the distress many people in the community are experiencing.
“We hear it from our clients all the time.
“Paying occupancy costs is a big part of your income. And if you get sick and have to miss a shift or two, or if your car breaks down – well, people are living so precariously now.”
Sadly, there is no end in sight to the hard times food banks themselves are going through, he said. Hope Centre’s is not alone.
“Any organization providing food security is seeing huge spikes. That’s our job, to help people through their insecurity. I just hope we can get through the next few months.”
A recent food drive organized by Niagara Regional Police for local food banks helped the cause. Another organized by the local United Way wraps up March 22. And still more help is on the way through a food drive for Hope Centre, Open Arms Mission and Holy Trinity Church coming up in April based at Seaway Mall. You can find full details about the unique endeavour at this link, just look for Upcoming events, Spring It Forward Challenge: https://www.facebook.com/thehopecentrewelland/
Braithwaite is perplexed about what can be done about the reliance on food banks by so many.
“We continue to have conversations like we’re doing now, and also talking to politicians and educating the public. That’s a long-term process. Short term, I don’t know what we’re going to do about it.”
Until something is, more and more people, including children, will find themselves caught up in a revolving door, food bank dependency lifestyle. And shortages of staples like that of Kraft Dinner will continue to be indicators of the growing challenges food banks find themselves contending with.
‘We’re Seeing Record Numbers’: Hope Centre CEO
One of two: Julia’s Hope Cup tomorrow, Hope Centre food bank beneficiary of fundraising.
By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
WELLAND — The way Jon Braithwaite tells it, demand for services is growing; stats are way, way, up; new clients keep increasing in number. Trends that would light up the face of any CEO.
Not this face.
It’s clear he is troubled by what’s going on: food prices soaring, rents going through the roof, shortage of affordable housing, inflation still a problem.
Braithwaite is CEO of Hope Centre, the King Street-based social services agency well known for its work with the vulnerable through myriad outreaches: food bank, daily lunch program, emergency shelter assistance, counselling services and more.
I heard him speak for the first-time last month at an informal meeting for some Julia’s Hope Cup volunteers. He talked about what his agency does for people in need, with a special focus on the food bank, beneficiary of funds raised through tomorrow’s event in Chippawa Park.
He pulled no punches in talking to those volunteers: “We’re seeing record numbers. It’s not going to go down anytime soon.” Judging by solemn looks on some faces, Braithwaite’s message was having impact.
A meeting in his office followed soon after. Braithwaite joined Hope Centre in October, 2018 after 16 years as executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters in Niagara Falls. That was a big transition, but Braithwaite credits his brother, Michael, for being “an inspiration” to him through his own line of work, executive director of Blue Door emergency housing agency in York Region.
“I’m blessed to be here,” Braithwaite can say.
He could feel otherwise.
“This month (January) we’re seeing twice as many people as in January 2022,” he says.
“I just don’t know how we’re going to be able to meet that need.”
That’s the grim reality agencies like his find themselves dealing with.
But Braithwaite admits there is consolation in Welland’s reputation.
“The community looks after its own. The legacy of caring, you might say, is epic.”
The annual city-wide food drive comes to his mind.
“That we need to do this year after year brings chills to me. But the Welland food drive story warms my soul.”
Something else that causes him concern: statistics show the number of first-time food bank users is on the rise. In January alone, Hope Centre’s food bank was visited by 114 people who hadn’t accessed it previously. That compares with 69 the previous January.
“Astronomically high,” was how he referred to it.
“It’s something not only Hope Centre should be concerned about, but others too – that so many people are facing food insecurity. We are seeing more working families, more kids, more people we haven’t seen before.”
It doesn’t end there.
“We’re seeing people who used to be able to donate now using the food bank.”
Braithwaite finds himself thinking about these challenging circumstances even in off hours. The work isn’t something you can leave behind when you walk out the door at the end of the day.
“I find myself picturing a family in this type of situation: sitting down in the kitchen, someone saying ‘What are we going to do now?’ and at some point someone else saying, ‘Well, what about a food bank?’ That weighs heavily on me.”
Braithwaite is looking forward to the return of Julia’s Hope Cup. The fund-raising event ($40,000 is this year’s goal, and according to social media posts, the target is within reach) wasn’t held the two previous years because of pandemic protocols. So virtual escape room fundraisers were organized, raising about $95,000 in total.
“I’m excited about this year, what a beautiful community celebration. It’s a celebration of the life of Julia Turner, a great supporter of Hope Centre.”
Money raised will be for Hope Centre’s food security programs, Braithwaite says. Last year, Hope Centre spent about $100,000 on food security and the daily lunch program for people in need.
Commitment To Service Keeps Him Involved Year After Year
Two of two: Enduring friendships shine as ‘unbreakable bond’ for Julia’s Hope Cup vets
By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
WELLAND — Julia’s Hope Cup.
This is a story with many sub-stories: the spirit of competition in the hockey tournament; the spirit of community that sparkles in the silent auction and food and games celebration; the fundraising year after year; the focus on poverty and Hope Centre’s work; the Turners, Tina and Paul, their undying commitment to the event and to Hope Centre; young Julia Turner’s legacy; and special friendships that have endured the test of time. It’s the last of these I want to share.
Jim Larouche flicks back the pages of time.
We are in his office at F.E. Coyne Insurance Brokers in downtown Welland talking about something near and dear: Julia’s Hope Cup. He takes me back a few decades to days when Paul Turner, Eddie Burkholder and he and other boys from the ‘hood played hockey on the frozen pond in Chippawa Park, or Saturday morning baseball on the diamond at Ross School, or football in the park.
“Paul organized those games back then. He was the organizer, just as he is today,” Larouche says, a longing for yesteryear discernible in his voice.
I’ve heard about those days and those games before but it’s something to be shared again as his time machine takes us back. They weren’t quite teens yet, Larouche wants me to know, so important to him because the glue, the bonding that friendship grows, is as gripping today as five decades ago. That makes it a mighty bond.
Larouche is 62, his pal Turner is a year older.
“I still remember Paul’s address back then, 217 Edgar Street,” Larouche says.
The Burkholders lived on Glen View and the Larouche family on Pine Street. These friendships held firm through life’s ups and downs, tears and cheers, and triumphs and tragedies.
“It’s an unbreakable bond.”
It helps explain why he’s been part of the fund-raising, community-building Julia’s Hope Cup from Day 1. For Larouche and several others of his ilk, this is anything but a time-limited engagement.
I asked why he does it year after year.
“I guess I could borrow a line from Rotary,” says Larouche, a former Rotarian. “Service above self. It’s a good motto to live by in your community.”
The experience is rewarding and satisfying, he says. This comes from knowing you’re making a “small difference” in the Turners’ lives and also from being able to contribute to the community’s less fortunate via Hope Centre.
Larouche believes Julia’s Hope Cup has become one of Welland’s best known annual events and deservedly so.
“It shows just how compassionate our community is. When something unfortunate, something heartbreaking like Julia’s passing is – and we’re able to turn it into something positive and at the same time remember Julia’s contributions in her short span of years, that’s something special. Julia was active in volunteering and bringing the community together. Her legacy unifies the community by working together for a common cause.”
As Larouche sees it, the event offers layers of participation, whether it’s “making a donation, physically taking part by playing hockey, or volunteering.… that kind of support. ”
He holds dear the times and gatherings with Tina and Paul and friends over the years continuing to the present day. He calls their home “a magical place” warmed by family dinners, barbecues, sports gatherings and more, all with memories of Julia in their midst.
Friendship’s loyalty and respect are what matter most to Larouche, who can look back 50 years and remember the good times playing hockey on frozen Chippawa Park pond, and who can fast forward to present day where he relishes what Julia’s Hope Cup now does for so many others.
“I know one thing,” says Jim Larouche, “it makes the bonds of friendship stronger.”
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Pleased to announce that the 12th annual Julia’s Hope Cup will be returning to our traditional annual pond hockey tournament and carnival on Saturday, February 18th, 2023 at Chippawa Park Pond. Learn more at: https://juliashopecup.ca
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December Campaign A Winner On Three Fronts
WELLAND — Operation Win-Win-Win has raised “over $10,000” in donations, organizer Paul Turner said in e-mail correspondence this weekend.
The initiative, which partnered with Hope Centre, asked Welland residents for their support during Christmas season. It got underway December 1 and continued for most of the month.
Turner described the successful outcome as a win for the vulnerable, local restaurants and Welland.
He came up with Operation Win-Win-Win as a way to provide assistance to restaurants and at the same time offer a hand up to people in need. Restaurants are going through hard times because of the pandemic and protocols in place because of it.
When making donations to Hope Centre, contributors were asked which restaurant they would like to support by means of a gift certificate.
“Our local restaurants have been strong supporters and advocates for our city. We realize the COVID pandemic has been a strain on many and we are asking those (people) who are financially able to help out at this time,” are the words of a promotional announcement at the start of the campaign.
The gift certificates will be purchased by Hope Centre staff this week, then will be distributed to local residents the following week.
“To everyone who donated we expect nothing less from the wonderful people who live in Welland, cheers. On behalf of Welland, thank you so much,” Turner wrote in the e-mail, confident the generosity of local folks would shine through as it has on many other occasions.
If anyone missed making a donation to Win-Win-Win, late contributions can be arranged by calling 289-686-5260.
Just a reminder: Always a good cause to support. And the need, in these times, is greater than ever. Wesley United is on First Avenue, Welland. (Sign Language is a recurring feature on the blog. Photo by Joe Barkovich)