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Food bank manager retiring from ‘labour of love’
Some 26 years ago, as her youngest of three children headed into Grade 1, Richmond Hill’s Brenda Ewart took a part-time job as manager of the Richmond Hill Community Food Bank.
“Our family attended Richmond Hill United Church where the food bank was located at the time, and the minister suggested I apply for the job,” explained Ewart, stating one attraction was she could be home before her children returned from school.
But what started as a job, has become a passion and has consumed far more hours each week than originally forecast, and has pulled in her husband, Bob, as well. Although she has been paid, both have donated many volunteer hours over the years to what has become a labour of love for both.
“Bob had his eyes opened and so did the kids to the need for the food bank,” explained Ewart. “And the volunteers have become my friends, my family. Some have volunteered longer than I’ve been here!”
In a few months, Ewart is retiring from the job, eager to spend more time with her six grandchildren and go on camping trips with her already-retired husband.
“I like people, I’m organized, and I have a treasurer and board to help me. And I’ve been volunteering since I was a teenager, first in Toronto hospitals, then at our hospital in Richmond Hill for 20 years. Volunteering has always been part of my life.”
The food bank on Newkirk Road just north of the GO train station is open each weekday from 9 to 11:30 a.m. and residents of Richmond Hill — individuals or families — can receive three to four days worth of food every 28 days. Once proof of address and identity is provided, a trained volunteer helps each client “shop” for groceries from the storefront shelves. More volunteers work in the warehouse to receive and sort donated food, and it’s especially busy in the weeks before Christmas.
Most weeks the food bank serves 15 families a day, but on the busiest day ever, Ewart and her volunteers served 42 families in about three hours.
Ewart establishes and maintains the volunteer schedule; deals with telephone and email inquires from corporate, school or church donors wanting information or tours; connects with generous grocery firms and farm operators wanting to drop off extra bread, baked goods or produce; sends out thank-you letters; and copes with emergencies when they arrive.
It could be a fridge that stops working, a flood in the warehouse, alarms set off, and even difficult clients.
“A couple times I’ve had to call police and provide a licence plate for a client who was drunk and shouldn’t be driving.”
She credits both the volunteer board of the non-profit food bank and the Town of Richmond Hill for being “very supportive” and says some of the grateful letters of thanks from clients she receives on behalf of the food bank are highlights of her time at the helm of the organization.
“Some of the clients know I’m leaving at the end of June, and they ask if they can give me a hug.”
And she credits many of the amazing volunteers for making her years at the food bank so rewarding.
“Many have been here for 20 years, they’re so reliable, and so much like family. One volunteer even gave us funds in his will to purchase a vehicle and warehouse racks.”
“I will miss it … it hasn’t just been a job, but a labour of love.”
And true to form, she stresses she will be available with advice and help to whoever takes on the responsibility of keeping the food bank a thriving, vital part of the community.
Thanks! to our volunteers —
we can't do it without you!
The Richmond Hill Community Food Bank is now over thirty. More than thirty years of impacting families and our neighbourhood — and that's something to celebrate!
Way to go volunteers! Your efforts are like ripples, reaching far into the community and improving lives.