On the weekend, I saw a woman standing on the sidewalk holding a cardboard sign with the words “I am homeless. Help me” handwritten on one side.
Three green garbage bags of belongings were stuffed into a bundle buggy and the hood of her coat was tied tightly under her chin against the bitter wind. Her face was red and raw, her lips dry and cracked.
I looked into her watery green eyes and smiled when I handed her some money. I guess I wanted her to know I really saw her, even if that’s as much as I could do. She nodded in thanks and I read her sign again. “Help me” was the part that stuck because I wasn’t sure that I had, really.
Homelessness is a terrible fate for anyone but when I see a woman or a teenager living on the streets, I feel especially sad and scared for them. I also realize that if my life had turned out differently, it could just as easily be me holding that sign.
Then, this morning, there was a team of young people at the subway calling out, “Spare change for the Fort York Food Bank.” I stopped beside a short, stocky guy wearing a FYFB T-shirt and dropped my coins into his tin.
“I’ve never heard of the Fort York Food Bank,” I admitted to him, “where is it?”
Turns out, the place is steps away from my old neighbourhood near the Art Gallery of Ontario. I said, “keep up the good work!” then, when I got back to my computer, I checked out the FYFB online.
It was inspiring stuff for me, hope it is for you, too. Here’s what I found out:
Did you know FYFB:
- Is one of the largest agencies of the Daily Bread Food Bank
- Served close to 36,000 meals in 2008 through our Community Drop-in Centre.
- Performed close to 1,200 counselling cases last year.
- Provided over 240,000 meals in 2008 through our three-day grocery baskets.
- Received over 23,000 voluntary service hours of time last year.
From the FYFB Connects newsletter
Meet culinary queens (and sisters) Shawna McPeek and Paula Quinn as they prepared Saturday lunch for 180 FYFB clients. In her day job, Shawna is a producer at John Street, a Toronto advertising agency. Paula works with developmentally challenged young people. Here’s what they had to say about their work with FYFB:
What is your role as a volunteer?
Every other Saturday Paula and I come in and prepare lunch. It gives Ken (the regular cook) a day off.
Shawna: I took a culinary course at George Brown and this gives me a great chance to practice. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not making French cuisine here but we’re making good, healthy, fresh food.
Paula: The clients appreciate that we’re not feeding them powered potatoes and that we always make sure there’s a nice fresh salad on offer.
Shawna: Every week that we’re here, I visit the freezers and select the meat for the next time. Then I go home and plan the menu around that meat. This week it’s ham with a cherry glaze. To go with it we have mashed potatoes, cabbage, corn, green beans, salad and bread.
Paula: Last time there wasn’t a traditional meat but there was bacon and sausages so we planned a big pancake breakfast. It was fantastic – everyone enjoyed breakfast but it’s very challenging to serve breakfast to 180 people almost all at once.
What’s a moment from volunteering at FYFB that will always stick with you?
Both: The funniest thing that ever happened was a client who asked us how we knew each other. When we said we were sisters, she replied “Oh, so you’re nuns.” We laughed and laughed and couldn’t help making up a convent!
What do you take away from volunteering with FYFB?
Over the years we’ve seen clients come and go and some have even passed on. It’s sobering to realize how important the food bank is in people’s lives. It makes you grateful for what you have and grateful that you’re in a position to help others.
Why should others consider volunteering with FYFB?
Volunteering with an organization like FYFB is addicting – you try to leave but they keep pulling you back in! It’s like a job but it’s a job that you want to come to. When clients at FYFB say ‘thank you’ it’s really a meaningful ‘thank you.’