Reflections On My First Holiday Season at the CSHFB

“If you think we are busy now, just wait until December!”

Our mitten tree, always filled with scarves, mittens, and hats made by caring community members.

This is the refrain I heard many times throughout my first few months at the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank. While you can expect the holiday season to be a busy time for a food bank, and for many charities for that matter, I could tell that Christmas, and the whole holiday season, was a very special time at the CSHFB.

And what a time it was!

First it was the events.

The parades, with people all along the route handing over food and funds to our many volunteers who were rushing around to collect it all. The CP Holiday Train, with hundreds from our community cheering the incredible donation from CP, and from ACD Foods who brought a truck with 500 turkeys on it. The Forward and Trinity Community Table Christmas dinners, Hespeler Elves, the Deer Ridge toy drive, Stuff-a-Bus, the River City Concert, and on it went…

And it was the donations.

The Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank relies heavily on the generosity of the community, with more than three quarters of our operations fuelled by donations and fundraising. Whether it was a family coming by with bags of groceries, the small and large businesses, labour unions, congregations, and community groups doing toy and food drives, or community members and businesses making small and large financial donations. It all adds up and gets collected to fuel our work not only during the holidays, but all year long. The generosity of people in our community – our neighbours – is astounding.

Our sorting area overflowing with food donations from our generous community!

Then there was the distribution.

Most years we find a gymnasium or warehouse space where we can collect and distribute holiday food hampers and toys. This year the right space just didn’t materialize in time, so we decided to do it all at our 54 Ainslie Street location.

While the theme was cozy, our army of volunteers and dedicated staff ensured that it all went to plan. Over 450 families received holiday hampers and/or toys for children and teens over a two day period. The hampers were enough for a beautiful holiday meal, with thank to our many donors. And the toys were diverse and plentiful, enough to make sure that the families who registered would be well taken care of. So many of these families were sponsored by individuals, schools, businesses, families, churches – each stepping up to make sure that that one specific family would have a celebration to remember.

And most of all, it was the love.

Over and over I saw people wanting to share their love for their fellow community members. From the little girl who donated toys from her birthday party so that other kids could enjoy them, to the volunteers and donors who made sure that children from single-parent families could choose and wrap a gift for their parent, to the ever-full mitten tree, always loaded with handmade mittens, scarves, and hats, handmade with love and donated by community members. If you want to see people living the meaning of the season, you can find it here.

What a heartwarming note to find on a thank-you letter!

This is not to say that the entire experience was positive. Nestled beside the abundance of the season is the need; community members in need of warmth, clothing, shelter, food, and a sense of community and belonging. These are needs present every day in our community, but perhaps more obvious in this season. Charles Dickens wrote: “We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.” One hundred and seventy-five years later, these words remain true.

I am so honoured to get to participate in the tradition of holiday support at the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank. I’ve never been more grateful to be so busy as I have this season. To each of you who volunteered, made a donation, knitted a scarf, put a can of food or a new toy into a collection bin, dropped off bag after bag of groceries, or shared a kind word with another member of our community – thank you.

Thank you for ensuring abundance rejoices in our community.

Cameron Dearlove
Executive Director

 

To the Most Amazing Volunteers in Cambridge and North Dumfries

I am now six months into my role here at the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank, and I can’t express how amazed I am at the dedication, compassion, and care provided by our hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers. At a recent community forum, I was asked how long the Food Bank would last without volunteers. My answer of “about eight minutes” may have sounded like hyperbole, but it really wasn’t; we couldn’t do a fraction of what we do in our community were it not for the incredible dedication and generosity of our volunteers.

Last year our Co-op Members and Community Volunteers logged over 26,000 hours of volunteer time. Sometimes it is difficult to comprehend such a large number, but if we break it down, I know that each one of those hours represents a donation not only of time, but of hospitality, care, and compassion to a neighbour and fellow member of our community. What an incredible gift you provide day in and day out!

I know that not every day is easy, and that not every interaction provides you with the thanks you so richly deserve. But I know from what I see, and from what I hear and read from people we serve, that your efforts are deeply appreciated. You hold a space for everyone in our community to be served respectfully, kindly, and free of judgement. Please know that your contributions are never lost on all of us here.

As we head into this holiday season, I’m reminded of a line from A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is approached about a donation towards the less fortunate: “We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.” At the Food Bank this holiday season – and all seasons – we see people struggling through many challenges. We are so fortunate that so many in our community step forward to share their abundance – and this is no more true than the abundance of time and caring service shared by our volunteers.

I wish you all a happy and joyous holiday season, and a new year filled with blessings.

With gratitude for all you do,

Cameron Dearlove
Executive Director