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Anne Silvey and ‘The Boys’ give back at local food bank

It's all about teamwork at the Helping Hand Food Bank.

Anne Silvey spends much of her time at Bradford’s Helping Hand Food Bank. As president of the not-for-profit organization, she oversees operations at 123 Moore St. in Bradford, and helps co-ordinate a small army of volunteers.

Silvey began her volunteer work at the food bank after she retired from Air Cadets and the Department of National Defence – where she started as a volunteer then went on to become a paid instructor.

She worked for DND for 35 years, then faced mandatory retirement at the age of 65; after retirement, the food bank quickly became her focus.

“It’s my little baby, because I can remember going hungry back in England,” Silvey said. “I also liked being involved with the food bank because there was no hierarchy – we worked as a team.”

Although the Helping Hand Food Bank is now a registered non-profit organization and has an executive, it is still about teamwork, she said – not only the wonderful volunteers who work shifts restocking the shelves and helping out when the bank is open to clients, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and the members of the volunteer board who pitch in whenever needed but also “the boys.”

Terry Marshall, Oliver Pajunen and Anne’s husband William Silvey are “the boys” – the regulars who unpack the bins and boxes of donations, sort by ‘best before’ date, and organize the store room at the St. Mary’s Building. As the shelves at the food bank empty, they transfer food from storage to the main building, maintaining a steady flow.

William Silvey started working at the food bank at the same time as Anne.

“I was volunteered,” he said. “As soon as Anne volunteers for something, I’m in.”

But he made it clear: “I wasn’t dragged in kicking and screaming. I gave it thought first, and if it’s within my capabilities, I’m in.”

He added, “Anne’s the mental part. I’m the physical part. It’s a good partnership.”

Although Silvey said he wasn’t the sort to volunteer readily - “I was one to step back, not step forward.” - the food bank isn’t Silvey’s only volunteer commitment.

When the Silveys first moved to Bradford in 1974, William very quickly became involved in scouting, volunteering for Cubs because of his sons.

“The boys were in Cubs in England so when we moved here we wanted to involve them in again,” William said. But there was a shortage of volunteers so when leader Eric Wright called an emergency meeting of the parents, “I put my hand up.”

It was the start of a 25-year commitment to Cubs, which continued long after his boys had moved on from scouting. “I was only going to be there for a couple of years, until the boys were through, but I was having so much fun I stayed,” he said.

Silvey also coached minor soccer for six years, from 1975 to 1991 and was involved in Air Cadets, helping with sports programs when son Andrew joined Cadets.

“Now I’m muscle here at the food bank,” he said, where he has seen the work load grow over the past 10 years.

“It’s frightening to think we’ve grown like this, that there are so many people out there who need help,” Silvey said.

Oliver Pajunen has been lending Silvey a hand for the past five or six years – “after I retired,” Pajunen said. Like Silvey, he had volunteered for other organizations, before coming to the Helping Hand Food Bank.

He’s filled shifts for the Salvation Army’s Christmas Kettle program and has a long history of involvement in Special Olympics.

 “I volunteered for Special Olympics for about 30 years,” Pajunen said, getting involved with the organization through the Civitan Club of Newmarket.

It took only one Special Olympics event to get him hooked. “It gives back so much,” Pajunen said. “It’s not what you do for them, it’s what they do for you.”

But it’s the food bank that has become his regular “work” – volunteering with Silvey and Marshall to sort donations and fill the shelves, even adding a stint on the front lines, on Friday evenings, to assist the clients.

During the summer, when donations slow, that adds up to three to four hours a week. “Then, when we’re busy in December, January, it’s two hours a day” he said.

Pajunen said he enjoys the physical part of the work – “the lifting, the bending, the walking, the sorting. It’s like a bit of exercise.”

Terry Marshall began helping about five years ago when the food bank needed help with its Christmas food hamper program – sorting and packing hundreds of boxes with Christmas dinners for families, couples and singles.

“Ever since then, I’ve been doing it,” he said – sometimes coming in to the food bank five days a week. In addition to sorting and packing, Marshall does a weekly dump run, taking cardboard to the recycling depot.

He has also volunteered with his wife at the Bradford Community Meal, but the food bank is his real focus.

Marshall noted that he, Silvey and Pajunen are the “regulars” who usually handle the unpacking and sorting of donated non-perishable food as it comes in – but right now, the food bank is quieter than he’s ever seen it. Donations have been few and far between, and the bins have been returned practically empty.

“I have never seen it like this,” Marshall said.

Marshall, who was a British Home Child, had a personal reason for getting involved in the food bank. “I was given this in the children’s homes,” he said, referring to a helping hand and regular meals. “You are giving back. Do unto others….”

“You give back,” agreed Anne Silvey, who also volunteered as a cub leader for several years, helped with the Community Meal, and still teaches knitting and crocheting at the Krafty Knitters club at Trinity Anglican Church.

She was also a volunteer driver, taking seniors to doctors’ appointments, but had to cut back after suffering injuries in a collision.

“You tend to help wherever needed,” Silvey said. “If I’m able, I’ll do it.”