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'Empathy and compassion' drives Helping Hand Food Bank volunteer

Bradford's Donna Lutchman volunteers for three to five hours per week and sits on organization's Policy and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committees

The Helping Hand Food Bank — also known as the Bradford Food Bank — has been in operation for over three decades and assists about 600 families per year.

Just over 100 volunteers ensure that the Helping Hand remains in operation as they take shifts packing bags, stocking shelves, and helping those requiring assistance.

Bradford resident Donna Lutchman started volunteering with them in the summer of 2022. She is currently a member of the board of directors, chairperson of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) committee, and chairperson of the Policy committee.

“Donna is an amazing human being … she has been a breath of fresh air for our food bank,” executive director Carolyn Khan said. “Donna is working hard to ensure that everyone who walks into our space feels welcomed and respected. I can't wait to see how Donna helps shape the future of our food bank.”

When asked why she wanted to volunteer, Lutchman said there was a "time in my life where I was a member of the Newmarket local food bank because I was not able to cover my living expenses and food.”  

“I share this not for sympathy, but to show that we don't know what someone's life truly is (like) when we look from the outside," she said. "We need to have empathy and compassion and actively work towards improving our society to uplift the most oppressed and marginalized — we rise by lifting others. Being able to volunteer at the food bank feels really full circle and I'm grateful that I am able to help others, just like others helped me.”

Lutchman volunteers between three to five hours per week and spearheaded the creation of the EDI committee, which focuses on systemic inequities, cultural sensitivity, increased effectiveness, reducing stigma, and long-term impact.

“EDI are crucial principles in the operation of any organization, including a food bank," she said.

Lutchman was awarded $500 US from her place of employment in recognition of her volunteer hours donated in the first half of the company's fiscal year. The grant was to be donated to a non-profit of her choice, so Lutchman did not hesitate to give it to Helping Hand. 

"(I) directed the funds to menstrual products as part of bringing awareness to period poverty ... helping so many who need them," she said.

Lutchman noted that even though menstrual products are an expensive necessity.

"When donating to the food bank, throw in some pads or tampons too," she said.

Lutchman enjoys volunteering on the Policy committee because processes and standardization ensure efficient operation of Helping Hand.

“It also allows us to look for areas of improvement and optimization on a consistent basis,” she said.

As demand increases, the need for efficient operation, dedicated volunteers, and help from the community has never been greater.

“Our food bank relies solely on donations to exist,” said Khan. “We are not funded by any level of government. We do source out — and write — grants, and we hold fundraisers at various times throughout the year, but we are dependent on donations to survive.”

Khan said demand for assistance has increased significantly. As the population in Bradford West Gwillimbury has grown, the cost of living has skyrocketed, and Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) payments have not kept pace with inflation.

“In order to sustain ourselves so that we can continue to support people ... who are experiencing food insecurity, we need funding. All food banks do,” she said. “Food banks were never meant to be a long-term solution for people, but here we are 33 years later and still feeding the hungry in town. We have got to do better as a society, and pressure all levels of government to take better care of people living in poverty.”

Khan started volunteering at Helping Hand in 2012. She was hired as the executive director in 2022 after the Ontario Trillium Foundation awarded a grant to the Bradford Food Bank, which allowed for the creation of Khan's role.

"There is nothing I would rather do,” she said.

It feels good to give back to the community and make a positive difference within it, Lutchman said.

“Anyone who says that giving back is purely selfless is not being honest," she said. “It's not always easy and there are times when the work you're doing doesn't go as planned, leaving you a bit deflated. And then, more often than not, you'll get a smile, a heartfelt 'thank you,' a feel-good laugh with a community member, and it quickly circles back to feeling good.”  

Though Helping Hand has reached its quota for student volunteers, Khan said it is always looking for help on weekdays.

People interested in volunteering are invited to reach out to the volunteer coordinator directly via email or through the website’s Contact page.

“I will say, at the food bank, my favourite moments are when a member lets us know they no longer need us. It will be a glorious win when food banks are not needed, when food poverty ceases to exist — thanks to livable wages, affordable housing, and housing accessibility to name a few factors," Lutchman said. "Until then, knowing that I am helping someone have food available to them is a good feeling."

Helping Hand currently needs Kraft Dinner, peanut butter, rice, juice, and size 5 and 6 diapers.

With Helping Hand's new location at 177 Church St. currently in development, donations can be dropped off between 10 a.m. and noon, Mondays and Thursdays, from the entrance on David Street. Community members can also drop off donated goods in the bins at the front of the local Food Basics, Zehrs Markets, Reali's No Frills and Sobeys stores.  

To learn more about Helping Hand, visit its website or Facebook and Instagram pages.

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Amber Green

About the Author: Amber Green

Amber is a freelance journalist with InnisfilToday. Dedicated to the craft of writing, she is a storyteller at heart who writes novels, poetry, and short stories. She lives in Innisfil.
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