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Getting better with a little help from your friends

In this Following Up feature we talk to organizers from The Helper Bees and Your Downtown Guelph Friends who have joined forces to help address food insecurity in downtown Guelph

Food insecurity is a growing problem in Guelph and that has inspired some local charitable groups to join forces and come up with creative ways to feed and nurture those in need.

“I am so thrilled to see outreach programs coming together to tackle this issue,” said Kate Nixon from the group Your Downtown Guelph Friends.  “This is truly, a battle against inequity, marginalization and food insecurity and the only way to tackle it is when we are all working together.”

Nixon has been involved in outreach work in Guelph since she was 16 years old.

“I am 21 now, but I started doing my own programming when I was 18,” she said. “So, it has been approximately three years that I have been doing direct outreach on the streets.”

During that time, she has watched the need grow while demand for services and resources were being stretched to their limits.

“When we started out, we were seeing significantly lower numbers than we are seeing now,” she said. “I have to meal plan for at least 100 people every week now or else I am running short. It’s sad because I wish we weren’t out here having to do this, but the reality is that there is a significant food insecurity issue in our community.”

That’s not news to John Dennis from the Church of the Apostles where the group The Helper Bees recently began preparing the meals Nixon, as well as her mother Dee and other volunteers have been distributing.

“One of the big challenges we had this summer is that the need has really exploded,” said Dennis. “We had a set budget, and we were making 100 meals per week, which was great, but more and more people are coming. Now, there are almost 200 people coming for the Friday and Sunday program that Kate runs through Your Downtown Guelph Friends.”

They run the program next to The Bench at the corner of Wyndham and Woolwich streets where Ed Pickersgill and volunteers from Out of Poverty Guelph have been providing afternoon meals, clothing and other essentials, Monday through Saturday since 2017.  

“There is no dinner program on Sunday,” said Nixon.  “You can get groceries Sunday morning, but we are the only dinner program. We are trying to fill in this missing lunch and dinner component, which is challenging to do. Sometimes we are the only program on a long weekend and Sunday and Monday people are going without so, we are just trying to fill in that gap.”

The partnership between Your Downtown Guelph Friends and the Helper Bees has assisted both groups with their missions.

“When you work as partners and figure out what the strengths are of each group, it can really accelerate what you are doing to grow and multiply your efforts together,” said Dennis. “They are on the streets doing this outreach.  That’s what they do best.  We don’t have that capacity at the church, but we have a great, public-health-inspected, kitchen that we can make food in.  We have governance and the ability to raise money for the group. So, all of that goes together to help a lot of people that are vulnerable and quite frankly, need the help in Guelph.”

It also allows them to expand their efforts.

“Kate is now working with us as a facilitator,” said Dennis. “Her role is to try to come up with creative ways that we can extend our outreach in the community.  We did a book sale in May and we raised $1,500 for a literacy program that takes books to provincial jails. We piloted our Blanket Bees Program earlier this year where we handed out 100 high-quality blankets and for six months people had the opportunity to bring them back here on a Friday or a Sunday and exchange them for clean ones. We started a grocery bag program where we get food donations from The Seed and Guelph Food Bank and put them in small grocery bags that people can pick up here on Fridays.”

Other efforts include the Socktober Program where, last year alone, they distributed 5,000 pairs of socks to people in need and the free eight-week long Living Better on Less Program where people can learn skills for managing their money and creating a budget.

To help fund it all they have launched the Bees and Friends Frontline Fundraising campaign on GoFundMe.

“We are going to run it for the next month, and we are going to try and raise $10,000,” said Dennis.  “It is run through the church so, anyone who donates will get a charitable receipt and all that money will go back into programming.”

The programs are designed to help those in need, but they also provide inspiration and opportunities for people such as volunteer, Lou Thompson, to make a personal and genuine contribution to the community.

“We are out here to help people as equals on a mutual benefit basis,” she said.  “We are meeting people where they are at and making sure people in the community know that there is a caring ethos going on and that people are looking out for each other.”

It is a sentiment both demonstrated and echoed by Nixon.

“Ultimately, I believe we all have the same goal and that is to ensure people don’t go without, especially when it comes to basic human rights such as food and shelter and living a dignified, equitable life and having moments for peace and happiness,” said Nixon.  “That’s what we all want and that we are getting together to reach that goal is not only good, I think it is a crucial way to move forward.”

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Troy Bridgeman

About the Author: Troy Bridgeman

Troy Bridgeman is a multi-media journalist that has lived and worked in the Guelph community his whole life. He has covered news and events in the city for more than two decades.
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