Volunteering at Boyle Street – the EFCL experience

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BoyleStreet-Banner-6-1280x415

All staff from the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues recently spent a day in the Boyle Street drop-in, helping out and preparing and serving lunch.  This is a blog which one of the staff wrote about the experience:

What is your New Year’s resolution?

By BARB MARTOWSKI, EFCL Communications Director

When it comes to the festive season, most companies, associations, etc., celebrate with a staff party of some sort. These events are more than just parties – they are a Thank You for the hard work that’s been done throughout the year, they allow colleagues to bond in a relaxed setting and of course, to celebrate the season with those we spend a vast amount of time with. The EFCL office is no different, but we’re a small group and we wanted to do something different.

In 1917, Edmonton community leagues were born out of neighbours helping neighbours to build strong communities – a grass-roots, pioneering spirit that thrives to this day, so it wasn’t a big leap to decide that helping out would be our “party.” The big question was who would we help? Who would we lend our labour to?

Edmonton has an amazing number charities and community service organizations, many of which immediately come to mind thanks to great promotion and patronage, but there are others who are only now being able to promote their good works because of social media and the online world. Many of these run under the radar of most people, but they have been around for quite some time.

A decision made

We put two of our best colleagues on it, Joanne Booth and Bev Zubot, and tasked them with finding a suitable group that could accommodate us for a few hours sometime during the first couple of weeks of December. There were a few other guidelines, but it wasn’t easy to narrow down; there are so many groups that need help – and not always monetary help, though that’s always welcomed.

The choice was selected, the phone call made and on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 10, the EFCL staff descended on Boyle Street Community Services.

We were there to help make lunch and serve it, though when the EFCL staff has its collective sleeves rolled up, we’re ready to get whatever is needed done. On this particular morning, it included sorting through donated clothes as well as a few other odd jobs. Chef Jake said we were just too fast, but it wasn’t that we were fast, we were focused – and it’s amazing what can be accomplished with many hands.

Family time

As we chopped vegetables, cut bread and stripped the meat off a roasted turkey, the Boyle Street kitchen became the family kitchen, where stories were shared and good natured teasing and laughter abound. We never once forgot the reason why we were there, but it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know each other better.

Boyle Street serves breakfast and lunch every day, and as Chef Jake told me, on fair weathered days, they could serve anywhere from 150 to 250 people. On cold days, that number rises dramatically to around 500. The meals are created from ingredients that are for the most part, donated. Yes, monetary donations allow them to buy the very basics, but whatever is created in the kitchen depends entirely on “what’s in the cupboard.”

So what would you do with a single roast turkey, a couple of bags of carrots, four packages of hamburger, maybe 10 potatoes and several boxes of pasta? Don’t forget, you’re about to have somewhere in the neighbourhood of 150 plus guests for lunch, so it has to stretch.

Making it all work

If you are Chef Jake, you make a hearty soup. And that’s what we did. No onions, no celery, no other vegetables other than the carrots and the few potatoes, but what saved the day were the four bags of demi-glaze that had been donated by the Edmonton Food Bank. See – nothing goes to waste amongst our charities. If one can’t use it, another one can and they share with each other as much as they are able.

Rich, thick and tasty, the soup fed a lot of people that day who would not see another meal until the next morning. As did the sandwiches that were made for the outreach truck. There are many folks who just can’t handle being around people for whatever reason or aren’t able to make it to the centre. Boyle Street does its best to find and feed these people as well.

From money to time

Our time spent at Boyle Street was really a gift to ourselves, but this type of gift should be given throughout the year. Boyle Street and similar groups, including animal shelters, depend on volunteers as much as they do on donations – much like community leagues.

In light of the current financial pressures facing our province and our country, the “tightening of our collective belts” will have a big impact on many charitable and non-profit groups. As much as many of us would hate to admit it, monetary donations are probably the first thing we cut back on in our personal budgets at times like this, but our labour only costs us our time. And it’s all ours to give freely.

Make your New Year’s pledge for 2015 to give your time and labour to a non-profit throughout the year – not just at Christmas. It will put a smile on your face and a glow in your heart – just as it did for us. More importantly, it will put a smile on the faces of those you help.

Moving Towards Great Inclusivity

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BoyleStreet-Banner-13-1280x415

At the end of last summer, Boyle Street Community Services purchased the building it has occupied since 1995. Apart from the importance of this event to the 9,000 people we serve every year – the majority of whom are of aboriginal descent – the purchase is noteworthy because it puts Boyle Street across the road from the new downtown arena and entertainment district.

Can a busy social agency – and there are a number of them in the inner city – that serves some of the most marginalized of citizens live cheek by jowl with a spanking new arena that we are promised will lead to the resurrection of the downtown? Continue reading