Kitchener-Waterloo

People needing food hampers not turned away due to Syrian refugees

Syrian newcomers are not taking away food hampers or food aid from other Canadians who qualify, according to local agencies and food banks who deliver aid in Waterloo region.

One agency purchased halal turkeys for Syrian Muslim newcomers for Christmas

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greets a family of Syrian refugees during their arrival at Pearson International airport, in Toronto, on Dec. 11, 2015. A year later, Syrian refugees are facing the end of federal financial support, and settling into Canadian life. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Syrian newcomers are not taking away food hampers or food aid from other Canadians who qualify, according to local agencies and food banks who deliver aid in Waterloo region.

CBC K-W decided to look into the issue after someone commented on a CBC K-W Facebook post about a homeless woman who spent eight months sleeping on the streets of Windsor, Ont. 

The commenter wrote, "Hmmmmm seems to me people who depend on food banks for food will not qualify for Christmas food hampers with turkeys this year as they said they had to help the refugees. I know this for a fact because I heard it straight from someone who depends on it."

But, when CBC called local agencies in Waterloo Region, they said it is untrue that anyone would be turned away.

'Absolutely not true'

"The truth of the matter is that those who are in need in our community will receive a hamper whether they're someone who's recently come to this country as a new Canadian and are struggling to meet ends or a whether it's been a family that's lived in Canada all their life, but due to circumstances at this point, needs a little of bit of assistance to get through," said John Neufeld, the executive director of the House of Friendship.

"We provide for all, this is a generous community and we want to ensure that everyone has food on the table and toys for their kids," he said.

The House of Friendship provides food hampers year-round, according to Neufeld, and that gives them an idea of what they'll need around Christmas time.

It's our job, our role to ensure that we have enough food resources to meet that need.- Wendi Campbell, The Food Bank of Waterloo Region

At Christmas, many food hampers are delivered through The Christmas Bureau, a partnership between the House of Friendship, The Salvation Army, the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank, the Cambridge Firefighters, the Kitchener-Conestoga Rotary Club and the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. 

This year, the House of Friendship is planning for about 4,000 Christmas hampers, and, Neufeld said, they've purchased extra halal turkeys for new Muslim arrivals. The group partners with the Salvation Army, who deliver toy hampers at Christmas. Major Miriam Stevens said that last year the Salvation Army delivered around 5,000 toy hampers, but demand seems to be down a bit so far this year. 

When asked if anyone would be turned away in favour of newcomers, Stevens said, "That is absolutely not true." 

"We are here to help everybody who's in need," said Stevens.

'Doing the best we can'

According to Pat Singleton, the executive director of Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank, the group is providing about 500 families with hampers this year, and 35 of those are Syrian newcomer families.

I honestly don't think we push people through a zillion hoops to get a turkey.- Pat Singlton, Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank

"I feel very bad when people say that, because you know those of us who do Christmas are doing the best we can," said Singleton.

Singleton said she was shopping for families on the weekend, and tried to get as many toys on the list as kids had asked for.

"One of the Syrian families ... were actually quite taken aback that there might be a chance that their daughter could have this doll that she wanted," said Singleton. 

Singleton said that people who are considered low income would not be turned away. Even if someone lost their job tomorrow and had more pay coming, the agency would still help the family.

Singleton also noted that Syrian families who are still staying in a motel and can't cook a turkey from a hamper, will get $25 gift cards to buy other food items.

"But should someone connect with you and say, 'Well I got turned away in Cambridge,' I would love for them to call me. I really would," she said. 

"I honestly don't think we push people through a zillion hoops to get a turkey."

Food banks help everyone

There are several different programs across the region that are part of a food assistance network that people can access if they need food, according to Wendi Campbell, the executive director of the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. 

"But the commonality of all of the programs within the food assistance network is nobody gets turned away. If there is a need, we will make every effort to meet that need," said Campbell.

"Our role as the food bank is to ensure that we have enough resources to support the programs of the community regardless of how big they are. So if our numbers, for example, were to increase dramatically in a year, it's our job, our role to ensure that we have enough food resources to meet that need," she said.

Campbell said that the need for emergency assistance in the region has stayed about the same this year compared to last year, and Christmas hampers demand seems to be about the same. 

"We know there are ... a number of new, new Canadian families who are accessing programs, there are other families in the community who are no longer accessing the services, so it's all balanced out," she said. 

About the Author

Andrea Bellemare is a reporter and producer with CBC News who currently focuses on disinformation, tech and privacy. She helped launch the new CBC Kitchener-Waterloo radio station in 2013, reported for CBC Montreal and produced radio docs for CBC Radio. She has also reported for the wire service Agence France-Presse.

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