I’ve worked for Boys & Girls Clubs Big Brothers Big Sisters of Edmonton (BGCBIGS) for the past few years, and in 2016, I was put in a unique and privileged position. That year, United Way kicked off it’s All In For Youth initiative in Edmonton, and I applied to join. The program is intended to provide full-time social, nutritional, and mental health supports to youth, all within their school.
I look over the after-school programming offered at Eastglen High School, and over the past three years, I’m proud to say we’ve seen a lot of success; not just for the kids we serve, but in morphing the larger, overall culture of the school and community.
Something I wanted to make a priority while planning our programs was giving back through volunteerism. There are plenty of very practical reasons for a high school student to volunteer their time: to boost their resume, to find out what they might want to get involved with after graduation, or even just to rack up required hours for physical education class. However, the most important message I wanted to get across was that regardless of circumstance, background, income or education, everyone has the ability to help another in their own way.
At the start of 2019, a group of students and I registered to volunteer our time at the Edmonton Food Bank. BGCBIGS Edmonton is one of the many agencies that frequent the Edmonton Food Bank, with some of our sites also acting as depots. Having some of our youth support the warehouse through United Way’s Days of Caring program felt like a natural fit.
I’ve known the students on this particular trip for the past two years, but I was still blown away by how quickly they got into the groove of things at the Food Bank. Each student moved seamlessly from station to station, supporting wherever they found a need. Everyone was outgoing and so willing to be helpful.
While reflecting, one of our youth had said, “There was an amazing level of teamwork within all of the volunteers and those who worked there. Any questions you had were immediately answered and if someone couldn’t answer it, they would promptly direct you to someone who could.” On the sorting line, communication is key, especially for us newbies.
Another one of the students in our cohort is currently learning English (fun fact, Eastglen has a considerable population of newcomers and refugees learning English through Second Language programs), and he did an outstanding job of coordinating with the other couple dozen volunteers with us. This was in no small part due to the approachable and kind nature of the staff and volunteers.
The vibe of the warehouse inspires you to be your best self. When you’re there, you know that every bit of your time is going towards making things better for others. As an added bonus, I genuinely enjoy picking up boxes and putting them down on top of other boxes. For these reasons, I’ve registered to be a recurring volunteer at the warehouse, and typically put in hours on the weekends.
The Edmonton Food Bank warehouse is, in my opinion, a perfect microcosm of how a community should work. Many hands, from all different walks of life and diverse skillsets and abilities, coming together to support the greater good. Truly, it’s the kind of work that makes me so proud to be a part of All In For Youth. When we first walked in, we were all pretty surprised by the scale of the Edmonton Food Bank, and the sheer number of people served every month. For just a few hours of our time, our perspectives of food security and community development in Edmonton have been changed for the better. Not to mention, I got watch my students SHINE outside of the school and write all about it! Coolest job ever!