From the desk of our Executive Director, Cameron Dearlove

It has now been a month and a half since I have joined the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank, and I continue to leave here each day enriched by my experiences. I feel so lucky to get to spend my days around people who inspire: the people we serve, our dedicated volunteers, our generous donors, and our passionate staff.

I was drawn to this organization particularly because of the people, and the way they approach the work of the Food Bank. Simple interactions are layered with kindness and care. It’s one of the things that makes this place special.

But sometimes our words don’t accurately reflect our actions. Every once in a while I heard people using the word “client” in describing the people we serve. The word felt out of place, and a little bit jarring. It has a coldness that doesn’t match the warmth of the interactions in this building.

If you look up the definition of client, most uses revolve around a professional or customer relationship. It tends to be transactional, with one person providing a professional service for another. Merriam-Webster’s top definition are:

  1. one that is under the protection of another
  2. a person who engages the professional advice or services of another

This isn’t what I see in the work of this organization. Instead of transactional, I see relational. Instead of practitioner to client, I see community member to community member.

When we facilitate the donation of a backpack to a child for school, are they a client? When we walk with someone as they select food items to stock their shelves and crisper drawer, are they a client? When we provide support to access resources – or just a listening ear – to someone experiencing homelessness, are they a client?

Or is it one community member extending a hand to another – not a hand up or hand out, terms we so often use when we think of charities, but a hand shake that says you’re welcome here, you belong here, and we care about you.

So I invite you to challenge us if you hear the “C” word, and suggest to us some alternatives. We are going with “people we serve”, “members”, “participants”, “community members”, “our neighbours”. Even better: how about “people”.

Author Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank

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  • Karrie says:

    Kudos to you for moving away from the transactional language and towards one of intentionality and relationships. While this may seem like a small thing, words matter. Keep up the great work!

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