The Moose Jaw and District Food Bank wouldn’t function without support from a dedicated group of volunteers, a couple of whom have been helping the organization since 1998.
“It’s been a good 25 years. I’ve really enjoyed my time there. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve done a lot (and) been through a lot,” Sonia Smith said recently.
Helping others has kept Smith attached to the food bank for nearly three decades. She enjoys being part of an organization that gives back, while it is an enjoyable environment with various tasks.
She particularly likes unpacking pallets of food, opening boxes to discover their contents and then shelving items knowing they will reach people who need them.
Smith started volunteering with the food bank in 1998 after receiving a speed ticket. Instead of paying it off, she chose to work off the penalty.
She did her time and, in the process, fell in love with the organization and its mission. She asked if she could continue volunteering and the staff gladly welcomed her on board.
Smith’s favourite memory has been working with others.
“It’s been phenomenal. We’ve laughed over a lot of things. We’ve really worked hard. We’ve ran into problems that we’ve all faced and figured out,” she said. “… it keeps me going. And it’s been a wonderful time in my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Chuckling, Smith said it’s great to work with Deann Little, the development, volunteer and warehouse manager, even if the latter talks — a lot. Volunteers sometimes joke that they want the short version of her stories since they’re only there for three hours per day.
“We hold it against her and we kid her about it all the time,” Smith added, “but we wouldn’t have it any other way … because we love her.”
Little recently posted a picture to the food bank’s social media page highlighting some volunteers and praising the entire group.
The food bank could never do its work without its vital volunteers putting in countless hours each week, Little told the Express.
Volunteer numbers have tripled in the past year to 30 after the organization moved into its more spacious building on Fairford Street West. Only four volunteers could help in the former building at one time, while 10 can now be present.
Volunteers normally work three-hour shifts from about 9 a.m. to noon.
“The jobs our volunteers do here (are) critical to our daily operations,” Little said.
Some tasks volunteers do include taking donated fruits and vegetables from grocery stores and residents and bagging them for clients; delivering extra produce to seniors’ residences; and bagging excess garden tomatoes for use as pasta sauce and other dishes.
Little singled out some volunteers, including Smith, Jeanette Stewart, Deb Hill and Karen Dolan. Stewart is another 25-year volunteer, while Hill and Dolan have been around for 10 years.
“The longer they’re here, I don’t need to give them guidance. They just know what to do,” Little said.
However, more volunteers are needed for events such as food drives and to help over the summer, she continued. This past summer was “insane” because of all the vegetables residents donated from their gardens.
“They’re not just volunteers, but they have totally become family to us … . I consider them dear friends now, more so than before,” Little remarked. “Love each one.”
With a chuckle, Little added that the volunteers put up with her constant talking — “I’m not known to be too quiet” — while they share many good laughs. They also take on extra tasks paid staff could not accomplish alone.
A desire to help
For Dolan, she began volunteering a decade ago because she was retired and looking for something to do. The food bank was the first place she called because she knew it needed help.
Helping people and giving back have become the most enjoyable parts for Dolan. She normally sorts fruits and vegetables, while she has learned how generous stores are with food because they give so much instead of throwing it away.
Lately, the food bank has been putting extra produce in the lobby that’s “not quite up to par” and letting clients have their pick.
“I don’t give them anything I wouldn’t eat. If I don’t think it’s good enough for my family, it’s not good enough for theirs (and to the trash it goes),” Dolan said.
Dolan added that she also appreciates working with other joy-filled people focused on the same goal.
Caring for others
Fred Kaita is one of the few male volunteers at the food bank. He is a retired teacher and moved to Moose Jaw in 2010 with his wife “for the good life.”
He decided to volunteer in 2015 after his wife died the year before. Staff and other volunteers provided him with much support, allowing him to focus on helping others.
Kaita enjoys the other volunteers because they care about each other. Meanwhile, he knows enough about almost everything that he can step in wherever there’s a need — including with administrative duties — without much direction from Little.
“I like to fundraise. I can talk to people out there and tell them about how important the food bank is. And I like to think I’m helping in the community to raise awareness about what goes on here … ,” he added. “This facility is wonderful. And the community has supported the expansion and I think we’re a lot more efficient than we were in the old building.”