Gary Cottingham, 64, admits he may have coerced a neighbour into volunteering at the Helping Hand Food Bank of Bradford-West Gwillimbury.
While both he and Joe Ingoglia say they talked about volunteering in the community when they retired, it wasn’t until last fall Cottingham tapped Ingoglia on the shoulder after another volunteer – and his truck – had to step down.
“Once I got the van and I started driving it, there’s another fellow – Joe, a friend that lives across the street, I kind of sucked him into helping,” Cottingham said.
Now the two men drive from Sobeys, Food Basics, No Frills and Zehrs grocery stores to pick up produce and food donations before heading back to the busy food bank each Monday.
Ingoglia said Cottingham mentioned helping a few times last summer, but it wasn’t until fall that “I finally caved in,” he said. “Now I’m hooked. I help out as much as I can.”
Cottingham said one of the reasons he decided to volunteer came about after his identical twin brother died suddenly of a heart attack three years ago.
“I kind of thought, ‘wow – you’ve got to retire and enjoy life’,” he said. Although he loved his job as a civil technologist in the engineering department at DECAST, he said he has lost the extra 30 pounds he carried when he sat behind a desk at work all day.
“You should never retire and just sit down and put the TV on – you’re done,” he said.
After an extremely busy Christmas season at the food bank, Cottingham said the community’s donations at times overwhelmed him.
On Monday, a young couple entered the food bank and Cottingham initially thought they were there to pick up a food order.
“Apparently these two people – they have a baby that’s two years old now – and they give donations every year on her birthday,” he said. “I thought it was a great idea, what a great thing to do. Giving food – they had a couple boxes of food, diapers – it was just nice to see that part of our community giving back.”
Cottingham also helps sort donations on Tuesdays and says not all items donated are fresh.
“The oldest thing I found was a cereal box with an expiry date of 2012,” he said with a laugh.
That was the exception rather than the rule, he said, adding he is now learning how many stock items grocery stores actually carry.
The pandemic may have given some people pause and curtailed their volunteering but Cottingham doesn’t see it that way.
“It’s just my way of giving back to the community,” he said. “I think with all the COVID-19 and what’s going on – people are saying they don’t want to have the shot and all that – it’s because they’re not looking at the community as a whole, do you know what I mean? Because we’re all in this together.”