Commentary

Breaking Down Barriers to Good Food for Newcomers

By recruiting more volunteers with a diversity of language and cultural skills, we hope to help other families who are new to Canada find services and connect with their community.

By Erika Parente
Published February 02, 2018

Food is the basic necessity that every Hamiltonian can access. Or can they? The existence of food insecurity in our city is not a new phenomenon. However, the severity of this social justice issue continues to rise each year.

According to Hamilton Food Share Hunger Count 2017 [PDF], there was a six percent increase in the number of households accessing local food banks for emergency groceries since March 2016.

A number of factors, including low incomes and high rental costs, a very competitive labour market, and high cost of living, leaves over 8,400 households in Hamilton struggling to choose between basic needs like food, rent, heat and clothes each month.

Many families accessing Hamilton's emergency food network are also newcomers to Canada and face intersectional barriers to food security.

At Mission Services of Hamilton, we saw a 33 percent increase in the number of newcomer families accessing our emergency food programs this past year alone. This influx has made our staff distinctly aware of the additional barriers these families face to thriving in their new communities.

As a city, we face many challenges in supporting our newcomers as they transition into their new lives. A lack of resources and access to good food are among the most concerning. Imagine having to speak a different language in order to have access to food. For many in our community, this is a staggering reality.

These struggles are seen every day in the social service sector and raise the question: How do we make it easier to access services for everyone?

The language and cultural barriers that many newcomers face when settling into a new city can often isolate and remove them from the community they have just entered, making it more difficult to access support and assistance. Addressing these barriers is therefore a step in the right direction toward a more inclusive and supportive community.

Volunteer Recruitment Initiative

At Mission Services of Hamilton, we understand the challenges newcomers face when accessing social services and are addressing these issues to make our programs more accessible for newcomers. With the help of a small grant from the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration, we started a volunteer recruitment initiative for Hamilton newcomers.

The program is specifically looking for Arabic and English speaking newcomers who would be interested in helping Mission Services support and better communicate with those accessing our programs. The goal is not only to provide a warm welcome for newcomers in our community, but to break down language and cultural barriers that exist for many families trying to access social services.

During the first few months of 2018, we aim to recruit 30 newcomers looking for volunteer opportunities to become better connected in their community while also developing their professional skills and gaining new experiences.

One of our recent volunteers, Amna, came to Hamilton with her family seven years ago to escape violence in her home country, Libya. Her firsthand experience as a newcomer in our community has brought to light how we can better connect and serve other newcomers.

Amna volunteers in our Good Food Centre where she helps translate between our staff and clients and identify policies or practices that make it difficult for newcomers to access our services.

Amna recently helped our Community Services team host a feedback meeting and lunch with some of the Arabic speaking families using our Good Food Centre. During this informative session, we learned more about Halal products and desired proteins and developed communication strategies for our staff.

As Amna exampled in our fall newsletter: "I came to Mission Services' Good Food Centre to welcome more Syrian families and help them access food and other community services." Since then, Amna has truly been an essential part of our work to serve people in need or in crisis in our community.

Find Services and Connect with Community

By recruiting more volunteers with a diversity of language and cultural skills, we hope to help other families who are new to Canada find services and connect with their community.

Mission Services' Volunteer Manager Angela Ratzlaff-Lane oversees the recruitment initiative. As she says, "It is important that we are always reflecting on how accessible our services are and that we take the necessary steps to ensure that we are serving everyone the best that we can"

Any newcomers who are interested in volunteering at Mission Services are welcomed to contact Angela by telephone at 905-528-5100 x1104 or by email at aratzlaff@missionservices.com.

Erika Parente is the Community Development Coordinator for Mission Services of Hamilton. She works to develop strong community relations and manages outreach programs focusing on community engagement.

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