Navigating the food bank phone room

There is constant hustle and bustle in every department at the food bank. Volunteers and staff rush in and out of hallways and doors, looking both ways for nearing forklifts, but there is a special room in our building that requires quiet and composure. A little spot nestled away behind Client Services is a room filled with phones, headsets and smiling faces.

phone room volunteer1 “The Phone Room,” as we lovingly refer, is a busy place where volunteers and staff are in high demand with Calgarians calling in to request a food hamper from as early as 10:30 a.m. to as late as 7:15 p.m.

Selby Quinn, Calgary Food Bank Agency Liaison, says that the phone room can be a “tricky beast” because it is the first point of contact between the food bank and clients. Any scenario can come up, and probably will. Quinn says it takes a rare kind of person to work in the phone room, and she said supervisors know quickly if they’re a good match or not.

Volunteers in the phone room need to be great communicators, empathetic and will try their best to assist clients with their needs. To ensure this, volunteers go through extensive training, more so than most other volunteer positions at the food bank, which includes practice calls with veteran volunteers and staff.

How do we qualify need?

Every phone call is different, but staff will ask the same questions to determine if callers qualify for a food hamper. Clients will be asked several personal questions regarding income and basic expenses, including rent, mortgage, utilities, child care and medical expenses.

phone room volunteer2We understand that several of these questions can be difficult to answer, so we train our staff and volunteers to always keep compassion and confidentiality at the forefront of every call. They are the first point of contact for our clients and we don’t take that lightly. Our volunteers ask questions and try to provide as much support as they can. As well as hamper qualifying, volunteers supply contact information to the appropriate referral centres such as, The Women’s Centre, The Salvation Army, and the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society (CCIS).

If a client doesn’t qualify for a food hamper, we have the means, expertise and partnerships to find them the right agency or program to help them get back on track.

“The thing with the phone room is you really have to believe that people are good, and that people are reaching out because they really need the help,” says Quinn. “There is no room for skepticism or negativity towards why people are accessing the food bank.”

Every circumstance and situation is different and the volunteers in the Calgary Food Bank Phone Room are standing by.


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