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Campaign driven by vision and values, Emergency Food Hampers centre reopens

Posted in: News

It’s early December, and the newly renovated Emergency Food Hamper distribution centre is humming with activity. Stacks of boxed food glide across the floor on hand trucks. Shelving is dismantled and moved. Hampers are packed in various spots.

It’s moving day at 807 Guelph St. in Kitchener and like any move, it’s a bit chaotic. But after five months of temporary work arrangements, staff and volunteers are happy to be back under one roof, so they can continue their work serving over 20,000 people who need food assistance each year.

Volunteers arrive wide-eyed and smiling as they survey their revamped surroundings. Greetings are shouted across the expanse of the warehouse. There are hugs and handshakes.

The dream we have all shared for the past two years has become a reality. The new home of the Emergency Food Hamper program is now a place that embodies our values – compassion, dignity, inclusion, justice and hope.

When we moved into the location in 1992, the building was a significant improvement over operating out of the Charles Street Men’s Shelter. However, as local needs grew and our understanding of what it means to serve the community with dignity evolved, we realized it no longer reflected our vision of a healthy community where all can belong and thrive.

Stretched to the limits

The building was simply stretched to its limits. In 2015, the program served up over 28,000 food hampers compared to only 4,173 in 1985. During days of high demand, people in need of food would line up out the door in all kinds of weather. Staff and volunteers sorting food and packing hampers were working shoulder to shoulder. As hard as we tried, the constraints of the building were making it hard to live up to our values, particularly when it came to the people we serve.

After a multi-year push to identify the requirements, plan the changes and secure $750,000 in funding, construction started in late August. Staff and volunteers returned to the site December 8, 2016.

Since July 11 the program had been operating out of two locations. One was at the Food Back of Waterloo Region, where half the staff and volunteers received, sorted and stored food donations.

The other was at the Knights of Columbus site next door to the distribution centre, where the other half of the team greeted people, registered them and gave them food.

With no enclosed building to house the temporary site, the team worked outside in all kinds of weather to distribute hampers. Tents were erected as needed to protect people and food from the elements. Mobile cooling and freezing units stored the daily supply of food that was trucked in from the Food Bank warehouse on Alpine Drive in Kitchener.

Hours of Operation

The approach of colder weather and the prospect of snow made the move back to the distribution centre a welcome event. With the return comes the restoration of regular hours.

Food hampers are once again distributed from 9:30am – 4:00pm Monday to Friday at 807 Guelph St., Kitchener.

Important Upgrades

The renovation resulted in much-needed improvements to the distribution centre. The front of our warehouse was extended by 24 feet; the layout of the interior was changed to take advantage of the enlarged space and a house that sat in the middle of the parking lot was demolished to make way for improved access to the building.

The end result:

  • More space – The enlarged warehouse gives us a greater capacity to store food, to provide food choice to those seeking assistance, and more room to pack the hampers and fulfill the program’s administration more efficiently. It’s a more dignified and comfortable environment for the volunteers, staff and those receiving assistance.
  • Improved safety and efficiency – The expanded, graded and paved parking lot with curbs and a sidewalk separates parking and pedestrians from food deliveries. It’s now safer and more efficient for everyone to access the site.
  • A more welcoming environment – The improved exterior along with the enlarged reception area give those seeking help a place to come in out of the elements and experience greater dignity and privacy while they complete their request.

Working together

Throughout the planning and implementation, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to reflect on the vast web of support that exists in this community for our work. These people and organizations were instrumental in making our dream for the Emergency Food Hamper program a reality:

  • Our neighbours, the Knights of Columbus, generously let us use their property adjacent to our warehouse.
  • The Food Bank of Waterloo Region offered us the use of large portions of its warehouse and the support of its talented staff.
  • Once again, our volunteers demonstrated their commitment and flexibility by offering whatever support we needed, ideas, feedback and patience.
  • Grand River Contracting, our contractor, coordinated the sub-trades from excavation to drywalling and everything in between. They also navigated a myriad of details to keep the project on track and moving to completion.
  • Internal staff and Board members played key roles in leading the project forward and securing $750,000 in funding. 

Of course this would have never happened without the generosity of our donors, including the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s grant of $150,000. Among the finishing touches at 807 Guelph St. will be a donor wall where we can recognize the contributions we have received. 

How you can help

Sharing food with 20,000 of our neighbours each year is a challenge. Our work depends on your generosity. We are grateful for your financial support; just visit and click or tap on the “Donate” button. Any contribution will help us continue the work we do, providing food to about 120 families each weekday.

If you want to volunteer please give us a call at 519-742-8327 x 604.