Spend any length of time talking with the volunteers at the Community Connections Food Bank, and you’ll end up laughing. The humour comes quick as volunteers tease one another and share stories. They are a group of dedicated volunteers; a mix of year round long-term helpers and seasonal volunteers, and they are truly the heart and soul of the food bank.
The Friday morning I stopped by, Brenda Butcher, Joan Thatcher and Gladys Dyer were all hard at work.
“The food bank couldn’t operate without our long term volunteers,” says coordinator Patti Larson. “They commit thousands of hours.”
Dyer is one of those volunteer. “I don’t know why I started – if someone asked me or something happened,” she says. “I’ve been here years and years and years. This is my other family.”
That sense of community is something every volunteer I talked to touched upon. For Thatcher and Butcher, that sense of community helped them cope with tragedy. They came to the food bank out of grief, and stayed because of love and kinship.
Several years ago, Thatcher lost her eldest son. “I was in a really bad frame of mind,” she says. “I came down here and I asked Patti if I could volunteer just to get me out of the house and away from things, and I never left. It saved my life as far as I’m concerned.”
In Butcher’s case, the loss of her brother, Tim Butcher – an avid food bank volunteer, spurred her into action.
“I just needed to get out of the house and help,” she says.
“Tim was my right hand person,” Larson explains. “He did pick up and deliveries and was here all the time. After he passed really tragically, Joan ended up coming in.”
Despite the sorrow, all the women are chuckling.
“Tim was a prankster,” one laughs. “Oh he was bad.”
Butcher has carried on her brother’s joking manner.
“It’s like having a piece of Tim here,” says Larson.
“We have fun,” Butcher says. “We try and get everyone laughing. That is what makes it family.”
“It gets us all out every week and talking to people,” Dyer says. “We look forward to it. And it feels really great to do something good for someone else. Ultimately, that is what it is all about.”
The women are witty and quick, and also generous with their affection.
“It’s so good to have you here,” Dyer says to Butcher. “You’re the most patient soul. Let me say that Brenda is the most patient soul and such a worker. She does bags with coffee and sugar and just works away and suddenly she has forty cans all wrapped up.”
In the other corner of the Legion basement, where the food bank is located, three seasonal volunteers, Margie Dean, Heather Sirianni and Alistair Clark, are hard at work checking expiry dates.
“Expired goods are our biggest pet peeve,” Sirianni laughs. This week there is nothing too dramatic, but it isn’t always the case.
“We’ve had competitions of ‘what is the oldest food you found today,’” says Dean. “And once it was ten years expired.”
“What is great is that there is very little waste,” says Sirianni. “The expired stuff is collected by people with pigs.”
Both women have worked at multiple December seasons at the food bank before, as it is the busiest month of the year.
Sirianni spent twenty years working at Save-on-Foods, where she was responsible for the large bulk orders, rotation of stock and accounting for any shrink, Sirianni is clearly comfortable behind the scenes with the food.
“It’s nice to help,” she says. “I’m retired and I wanted to see how the ordering side of the food bank was done. This is my second year helping for the month of December.”
Dean had known Larson for years, and had long been involved in food drives.
“I knew they were open every day in December and that they needed help,” she says. “It’s such a good cause.”
Unlike the rest of the volunteers, Clark is a bit different. In his twenties and Scottish, Clark has been in Canada for two years, and in Revelstoke for a year and a half.
“I originally got in touch with Community Connections about volunteering because I needed to complete community service hours,” he says.
Those hours have been finished, but Clark hasn’t left.
“I realized I can help quite a lot,” he says.
As well as a sense of purpose, Clark was touched how many people utilize the program. “I think my first day eighty people came through the door,” he says. “But Patti explained it wasn’t eighty people but eighty households. It gave me a better perspective on how many people use the food bank in Revelstoke.”
The amount of work that goes into running a food bank was something all the volunteers learned about at some point. “A lot goes on behind the scenes,” says Thatcher.
“There are a lot of moving parts, a lot of people on the outskirts and and lot of people in the community helping,” says Clark. “There are so many different parts of the program you can still volunteer even if you’re working.”
Like the year round volunteers, the companionship is key for the seasonal volunteers. “Since I retired, what I miss most is the people, so this fills that space nicely and you’re doing something productive,” says Dean.
“My favorite part is that, honestly, I have a great time when I come here,” says Clark. “I’ve met so many people and heard so many great stories. I’ve had a look into what Revelstoke used to be like in the past, and I’ve found things out I never would have known if I hadn’t met these people.”
“It feels,” he continues as he waves at Thatcher, Butcher and Dyer. “Like a family.”