Adventures in volunteering

Nov 4, 2015 by

Adventures in Volunteering is a periodical series by Shepherds of Good Hope Communications Manager Don Ermen. With 1600 clients cared for every day, Adventures in Volunteering takes a peek at how Shepherds of Good Hope delivers those services with the help of more than 400 volunteers. Here is the first instalment.

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20150723_095805Oops. I’ve just dropped strawberries with some sort of cream onto the shiny, white new floors at Shopify.

What is it they say about getting stains out? Is it vinegar or white wine? And can I find either in the Shopify kitchen?

Every day, the Shepherds of Good Hope truck hits the road to pick up donations. We go to grocery stores, restaurants, local businesses, bakeries and more. We also visit people who have called up because they have something to donate but there’s too much of it to deliver on their own.

It’s a Thursday and I’m riding along with Don who is van driver and spends much of his day crossing the city. Don and I hit the road at 6:45 a.m., timing it so Shopify is our first stop of the day at 7 a.m.

Shopify is in a gorgeous building and its offices are even nicer. In addition to the strawberries, they have swordfish. Yes, swordfish is a little unusual, but we’re okay with unusual. As Don loads up the cart with the food trays, I take a stroll through the dining room, looking through the big windows overlooking Ottawa City Hall. It’s a gorgeous room and I wonder what it would be like for some of the men and women we serve to have a meal in this dining room.

Minutes later, I’m pushing the cart and I forget about the bump between the elevator and the main floor. And there goes a dish of strawberries. It’s not as difficult to clean up as I feared. But it does take a fair bit of paper towels and some scrubbing. I don’t mention this little accident when I return the cart to the eighth floor kitchen.

And then that’s it. The food transfer happened that smoothly. The good people at Shopify have food left over on most days and they provide it to us Monday to Friday. As I’m about to witness over the next six hours, there’s no fanfare to any of the donations. People simply want to help. They have something we need for our clients and they’re happy to provide it.

Our next two stops are two different Independent grocery stores. The first one has set aside the food donations customers have dropped off. Lots of canned goods, pasta, bottled water — you name it. To keep things from rolling around in the back of the van, we’ve brought along dozens of milk crates to re-package the groceries. At our next stop, we pick up four boxes of frozen meat.

“Meat is a treat,” says Don. Any time we can get a donation of meat, it helps our program. Today, we’re taking it to Hope Living, one of four supportive living facilities run by the Shepherds of Good Hope. We’re just a few blocks from the Kanata complex and the kitchen staff is happy to see us. They take a look to see what else we have but only need the meat.

Little Caesars Pizza in Stittsville is the next stop. “I hope someone is there this early,” says Don. “If not, we’ll just have to bunker down.”

We take the van into a strip mall and drive slowly behind the stores. It’s only 9 a.m. but Don finds the door opened and yells a hello.

Less than 10 minutes later, we have 56 frozen pizzas loaded in the van. “It’s a different amount every time we come,” says Don, “but they do this regularly.” Deep dish, thin crust and cheese fingers are really popular back at the soup kitchen, Don tells me.

GPSBefore heading to our next stop, Don turns on the GPS. “Shouldice Farm is way out there. There are a few turns to take and I want to make sure we take the right ones,” says Don.

Finally, the GPS decides to give us the directions. The first one: Make a U-turn. You’re going in the wrong direction. I guess we really did need that GPS.

As we start to leave suburbia behind, we roll down the windows. Not too long after that, we get hit with that familiar smell of farm life. Yup, there are cows in that field.

It’s our fifth stop of the day and we’ve been on the road for less than three hours. The contrast hits me. From the hi-tech offices of Shopify and people busily entering the building for a new day of work to the quietness and laid-back atmosphere of the farm.

We hook up with Riley, who stands a good few inches taller than Don or me. We have a couple of large blue plastic bins. We’re there to accept this week’s donations of vegetables. Riley starts us off with strawberries. He tells us the vans are on their way back from the fields, so the strawberries are going to be fresh.

About 15 minutes later, several cargo vans pull up and the workers, many from Jamaica and Mexico here to earn a living, jump out. It doesn’t take long to fill the bin with strawberries. Two more bins are filled with corn. Another is filled with yellow string beans. It takes the two of us to carry them to the truck.

I’m blown away by the freshness of the food. All of this was just picked an hour ago. Don and I are packing up the bins into the back of the truck when Riley, and a young woman who has just pulled up, asks if we can take a little more corn. Do we need a few more string beans? How about some raspberries to go with those strawberries? They’re eager to help us out as much as they can.

The workers have headed back to the field. We’re jammed with fresh berries and vegetables, so it’s time to make our way to our last two stops.

We’re headed to a couple of more grocery stores in south Ottawa. Between the two stores, we pick up six to seven boxes of breads and desserts. With our large truck out of commission, this cargo van is packed.

Don says if I think there’s a lot of bread in the truck, I should see what it looks like on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. That’s the day we head over to Weston Bakeries. They basically fill up the truck with bread, stack after stack.

“We consider all of these people to be partners. They are helping us feed people every day,” Don says.

He adds it’s not unusual to get a call during the week to make an extra pickup. “It’s no big deal to them. If they have something extra, they think of us.”

All of these donations help us serve more close to 700 meals a day, every day at the soup kitchen. Meals are also prepared for the people living at some of our other facilities.

Finally, our last stop is the Good Day Workshop on Bronson Avenue. We know they want some pizza. They also take a crate of string beans and a few cobs of corn. A client walks up. “Oh boy, look at that corn. We’re going to have our first corn roast,” he says.

“It was just picked this morning,” we tell him.

There’s one last job to do. Unpack the truck. A couple of clients help us and we get it all done in 15 minutes.

The last tray comes to me. This time I hold onto the strawberries.

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If you would like to know more about our food and grocery program, how to volunteer or how to donate, click on the following handy links

To donate
To volunteer
Food and Grocery program

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