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The Value of One, The Power of Many: Volunteering at the Calgary Food Bank

by | Apr 18, 2021 | Blog

A few months into working at the Calgary Food Bank and I am continually amazed to see the scope of the work done here. How the various departments work together to rescue, collect, sort, store, and distribute food to hungry Calgarians is awe-inspiring. And how that more than half of our workforce comes from volunteers. Like this year’s National Volunteer Week theme:The Value of One, The Power of Many, we want to recognize acts of kindness and the magic that happens when we work together towards a common purpose. I have only scratched the surface in getting to know and understand the wide range of people who choose to give so freely of their time to support their fellow Calgarians and it’s an honour to share some of those stories here.

Volunteers at the Calgary Food Bank

I recently did a quick tour of the distribution area and on that chilly Tuesday afternoon I met Colleen Larson. This bubbly, outgoing, and enthusiastic mom of three engaged me in conversation as she efficiently packed grocery carts with healthy food. She explained that there is a stark difference in the volunteer experience now compared to pre-pandemic times. “Before the pandemic, I’d come home dog-tired after a very busy three-hour shift. We helped bag food for clients, and get it out to their cars, there were often hugs, stories shared, and we even got to hold babies. Now, we simply work one day a week for two and a half hours loading carts for distribution. Not being able to interact with the clients is tough but the highlight is seeing and working with my fellow volunteers,” Colleen said, affectionately referring to her group as “The A Team”.

One of Colleen’s most poignant memories as a Calgary Food Bank volunteer was meeting an elderly couple who needed food support. “I can still picture them – an impeccably dressed lovely couple, they could have been my Mom and Dad,” Colleen explained. It struck her that even though we may not know people’s circumstances, that’s okay. It matters that anyone in a crisis knows they can come here for help.

I was introduced to a lovely couple who prove that living together for over 22 years can happily lead to ‘giving together’ as well. Brian and Michele Tsang decided to volunteer more than a year ago when they heard many of our older adult volunteers, who were at higher risk of severe outcomes if they contracted COVID-19, were staying home to stay safe. “So many people felt hopeless and helpless, and we knew we could help. We are reminded that while we struggle with big city problems like food insecurity, Calgary remains a ‘small town’ in so many ways,” Brian and Michele said. “We love it here, we are treated well, we feel safe and comfortable. We’ve made friends here and discovered people we were working side-by-side with had common connections with our family.”

Then I had the privilege of meeting “The Food Bank Cohort” as they have nicknamed themselves, a group of friends, married couples and one pair of siblings. When the pandemic hit, a couple of co-workers and their partners heard that we needed volunteers. They made a ‘date night’ of volunteering and when some restrictions were eased, they met in one another’s backyards to share some laughs and build on the friendships that grew out of their time together. “We have some good conversations and lots of laughs. Unfortunately, getting together had to end, but we all look forward to seeing each other every week.” Ellie Cox explained. More of the volunteers from The Food Bank Cohort weigh-in on what they love about volunteering:

“To be able to get together every week with like-minded people, to extend kindness to people in need, on behalf of the many Calgarians who have donated to the food bank and building long time friendships with other volunteers is the best.”

 

“Part of our group delivers the hampers out to the client’s cars, and we get to see firsthand the gratitude of the people who are in need. We all find the experience very fulfilling.”

Thank you to these volunteers who shared their experiences with me – you are a true inspiration. To ALL our wonderful volunteers: you are proof that the power of many can make an incredible impact. Thank you everyone – we simply could not feed Calgary without you.

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