(Photo: Stittsville Food Bank volunteers front row L-R: Kayla Robinson, Connor Meek, Caroline Frost, Shaheen Aziz, Gillian Smith, Back Row, L-R: Theresa Qadri (Chair), Adam McCaw, Quentin Pickett. Photo by Barry Gray.)
On a drizzly Sunday morning, when many teens are still asleep, there is a small group of volunteers already in full sort and organization mode at the Stittsville Food Bank. Every second weekend, a group of youth ranging from 13-20 years old come here to help—to make a difference in our community.
The Youth Volunteer Opportunity at the Stittsville Food Bank allows students to earn community hours through volunteering. The experience in the food bank provides hands-on education that can be put into action immediately. With various duties including sorting, organizing, planting vegetables and cleaning the youth can gain an invaluable, first-hand understanding of the realities of those in need and how they relate to our community.
“The number of volunteers can change,” says Theresa Qadri, the food bank’s chair. “We don’t want to get in the way of their activities such as hockey, ringette, dance etc. as these are busy youth, but we want them to know our door is open every second Sunday and they are welcome anytime. They’re here for various reasons: to fulfill volunteer hours, because mom said so, or just because they want to help. No matter what their reason for coming, they get to meet other youth and see the importance of the food bank, which is very important.”
One such volunteer is Kayla Robinson. Fairly new to the food bank, Kayla recently celebrated her 14th birthday and asked that her friends bring donations for the food bank in lieu of gifts.
“On my invitations, I asked them to bring donations to the party,” says Kayla. “They brought everything from tins, cans, cash and soups, and my Dad helped me bring everything here.”
Across the sorting table from Kayla, is 15-year-old Caroline Frost, who has been volunteering with the Stittsville Food Bank for almost five years. A drama student at Canterbury High School, Caroline first started volunteering with her Pathfinders troop as part of The Canada Cord—which is the highest award that a Pathfinder can earn for community service or volunteering. Last year, Caroline was awarded the very first Stittsville Food Bank Outstanding Volunteer Award.
Infectious and inspired. Caroline’s face lights up when asked about her time at the Stittsville Food Bank.
“I like the general idea of the food bank. I like the idea of helping people,” says Caroline. “I’ve been here when the shelves are full, and when they’re empty. I know that must mean that families use the service. So I want to help.”
Often times, Caroline can be found inside the food bank, with her friends and fellow volunteers, but her favourite opportunities are when she is off-site at fundraising initiatives, including the annual Fill the Bus, a Christmas food drive.
“I’m on the bus now, but when I first started volunteering, I was off the bus, handing out bags to fill. Now, I sort and count the food, and check for expiry dates,” says Caroline, while listing off the many tasks she’s had a hand in completing. “It’s an exciting day, seeing the community come together like that.”
This year, the 30th Annual Fill the Bus Christmas Food Drive will take place on Saturday, December 5 at Brown’s Your Independent Grocers. More than ever, the community needs our help as nearly 19 -23 families per week use the services of the food bank, and the numbers can rise depending on the season and the needs of individuals.
“It’s not always those that you initially think of, that use our services,” explains Theresa. “We have families in need, we have pensioners, we have individuals on fixed incomes and social services, and we have those that have been hit by unexpected illnesses or job loss. The food bank started in 1992 by caring community members caring about their neighbours and it is used by the entire community and all walks of life.”
While we often hear of food drives around seasonal campaigns, the need for donations is ongoing. Throughout the year, various drives are held by businesses, schools, daycares and other organizations, such as the Scouts and Girl Guides of Stittsville.
“It’s important for our community to know that we accept donations throughout the year, and we’re usually in extra need of items in the summer,” explains Theresa. “The summer is a busy time for us—we can feel the pinch of dwindling donations and our shelves are often almost bare by the end of August,” says Qadri.
“The food bank sends out messages through the media, social networking, community businesses, groups, schools and churches when help is needed. We are fortunate to live in a giving community with many people willing to give a helping hand,” she says.
They’re often in need of items that are popular with clients, including: school snacks, canned fruits, chunky soups, stews, apple juice, chili, cheese spread, toiletries, coffee, tea, pasta sidekicks, hot chocolate and hamburger helper.
“Many people aren’t aware that there are helpful tips that can make donations go even further and be the most valuable and useful things that the food bank receives,” explains Theresa. “For example, while good intentions are plentiful, please ensure that you check expiry dates and make sure that all packaging is unopened. Unfortunately, we cannot accept expired or open packages.”
The Stittsville Food Bank gladly accepts donations in many ways. You can drop off non-perishable items at any of the bins located throughout the community or by appointment at the Stittsville Food Bank. Monetary donations are also gladly accepted throughout the year via the web site, by mail, or by appointment at the food bank. Cash donations help pay for perishable food items like fresh milk, eggs, cheese, and more. If this is not convenient please contact the food bank and someone will be happy to help you. Your time, thought and effort are greatly appreciated.
See also: Three ways to support the Food Bank during the holiday season
Interested students can contact the Stittsville Food Bank by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to register for volunteering.