Story by Brianna Bell
Photography by Daniel Bell
In a 175-year-old church building, in the heart of Downtown Guelph, a smiling man exits through a cheery red door holding a bag of groceries. He has just selected his groceries at HOPE House’s Food Market, a choice-based, points-based program that acts as a short term poverty alleviation service.
HOPE House is a non-profit organization located in Guelph, Ontario, a city that 120,000 people call home, about 1 hour west of Toronto. It is creating positive change in the lives of many, with its intentional programming that aims to provide both short term and long term poverty alleviation, while providing their clients with quality services. In 2012, HOPE House was launched with the mindset that poverty, food insecurity, inequality, health, and community are all interconnected. Their programming and services look at all these connections, and provide choice and dignity to their clients.
I learned about HOPE House shortly after moving to Guelph in September 2013. My husband had found a job in the city, and we navigated the foreign streets and businesses the first few months, with little knowledge of the rich history and culture of one of the happiest cities in Canada. When we learned about the powerful and life-altering work that HOPE House was doing, even in its infancy, we were instantly moved by the project. Additionally, this organization is affiliated with Lakeside Church, which happens to be where my husband works.
From the HOPE Stylin’ hair salon, a Food Market that offers fresh local produce, and the EDU Kitchen, which educates and empowers clients to learn how to cook healthy and nutritious meals, HOPE House is offering a new way of doing things as a non-profit organization. Perhaps one of their most well known services throughout the community is the Food Market, which operates more like a grocery store than a food bank. “How big your family is determines how many points you get. You learn how to budget your points and create meals on a budget,” said Victoria Kinlin-Hynes, Development Director of HOPE House. Clients shop for their groceries at a leisurely and relaxed pace, choosing from a variety of options, from fresh local produce, to staples like peanut butter, bread, and cereal, and ethnic cooking products donated by local stores.
Fresh produce will often have a recipe card that clients can take, which will help guide them in preparing foods like squash, or even providing cooking tips for the microwave. Victoria added that many of their clients do not have access to a full size kitchen, and may only have a microwave and hot plate. Encouraging clients to try new foods, especially fresh foods, while empowering them to use the resources they have is important and valuable to their dignity.
The Food Market fits within HOPE House’s short term poverty alleviation goals. Guelphites that need access to good nutritious food are able to do so in a dignified environment that advocates for choice as a stepping stone to reducing poverty. Bob Moore, Interim Director of HOPE House believes that local food is a key ingredient to those living in poverty. “Local food is important for those living in poverty because local food is good for everyone. Our culture’s practice of importing food from all over the world makes food more expensive because you are buying food plus transportation. The poor barely have enough money for food, but seldom have enough for food plus transportation. Stores give more and more of their shelf space over to imported foods, where the higher profits are, and the poor feel the pressure to buy imported food that they can’t afford,” said Moore.
He added that imported foods also have a hidden cost that many don’t talk about, because of transportation times the food often spoils faster, leading to unnecessary waste. Many local farmers, volunteers, and small businesses are involved with HOPE House, offering hands-on help, or donations. One South Asian grocery store was closing its doors in the community, and offered their stock to HOPE House rather than liquidating. A large corporate sponsor offers land to the organization, which is farmed by volunteers in the community. Produce is either sold to raise funds, or sent to the Food Market. Other small businesses donate excess baked goods, surplus fresh produce, and even eggs.“We have different relationships with a lot of different local food providers and distributors,” said Victoria.
It’s obvious that the Guelph community can see the difference and impact that HOPE House is making, sprouting up as a new non-profit venture, and in a few short years making great strides to be one of the most well known and respected organizations in the city. Bob believes that the organization is different because of the climate of dignity that HOPE House strives to maintain.
“Many charities give away free food and clothing, and those things address immediate needs. But the long-term need is to have a sense of dignity that gives hope, and that shines a light on a path out of poverty. At HOPE House, we let our community members choose what they are going to take for food and for clothing. They are given budgets, so they have a sense of being in control, a sense of choice, and a sense of responsibility. By dialoguing with the staff, and participating in the decision making progress, they develop a sense of belonging and they take a step toward regaining the sense of self-esteem that poverty often steals away,” he said.
The difference that I see HOPE House making is monumental, both as a community member and someone who supports the work that they do in my city. When I arrived in Guelph nearly three years ago, I had little understanding of the deeply rooted community that I would be entering into. It has taken me a few years to understand how much people that live in Guelph truly care about it.
Seeing small businesses, large corporations, local farmers, volunteers from every walk of life, and the staff at HOPE House all come together with one united vision has increased my love for the city. These people are all united with one goal: to see the impoverished in our community rise up and achieve their short-term and long-term goals, and in a dignified way. Whether it’s food on the table, or a new job, the people of Guelph support the initiative of HOPE House, because we all see the change it produces.
There are so many simple ways they are fighting poverty in a nuanced and ground-breaking way; from calling those they serve clients, to empowering their clients with recipe cards, and providing a course to learn how to cook. These are all big steps towards greater change in the impoverished community. Walking into HOPE House on a weekday feels like taking one big sigh of relief. People from all different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds are inside the walls of 75 Norfolk, enjoying a coffee or a snack, or chatting with one of the friendly staff members.
Outside in the courtyard a small garden with herbs and lettuce grows, evidence that this organization doesn’t let any opportunity go to waste. Some park their bikes, or even enjoy the summer day sitting outside on a bench. Community members spend time developing relationships, and it’s not unheard of to see a big, loving hug, or a kind pat on the back.
Discovering the work that HOPE House does, and learning about the many donors and supporters throughout the community, is both inspiring and eye-opening. It takes a lot of time, energy, and money to make a big difference, but when a large group of people come together with focus and a goal, anything is possible.
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Brianna Bell is a Guelph-based writer, where she lives with her husband and two children. You can find her work in The Globe & Mail, the Guelph Mercury, GuelphToday and Chicken Soup for the Soul. She enjoys writing about alternative lifestyles and meeting people who are making an impact in their community. You can connect with Brianna through e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel Bell is a Guelph-based freelance photographer who enjoys the outdoors, spending time with family, and reading.