Moments of Gratitude: My Day Volunteering for Hamilton’s Good Shepherd Centre
A couple of weeks back, I attended the Mary Keyes Leadership Workshop on community service “Leadership in Action,” and I must honestly say that I underestimated the experience. I enjoyed and learned from this opportunity so much that I felt an urgent need to share what I learned.
After icebreakers and some quick activities, we headed up to the Good Shepherd Centre in Hamilton, just a bussing distance from campus. The group of us were responsible for volunteering at their community food bank and clothing distribution centre. Upon entering the space, a man in a leprechaun suit kindly greeted us and took us upstairs. He sat us down, gave us the following exercise, and instructed us in a soothing voice to close our eyes. He said something along the lines of this:
We were taught that some people simply do not have these luxuries! – yes, I said luxuries, these “bare basics” to some are luxuries and privileges to others. I was also shocked to learn that the James St. to the Wentworth St. area in Hamilton was the 5th poorest region in all of Canada, just a short distance away from McMaster or Dundas. I was also saddened to know that this area was comprised mostly of Syrian Refugees and that the 2nd spoken language there was Arabic, after English of course, similar to my spoken languages.
The most beautiful thing I took from our encounter was the respect and dignity that people working at Good Shepherd exhibited towards those less fortunate: they placed great value on “human-ness.” For example, instead of calling people homeless, they would refer to them as guests or brothers and sisters. Another instance was allowing room for choice between products; “choices are what give us our humanity and prevent us from being slaves,” he said. During our volunteer hours, the workers stressed the phrase, “If you wouldn’t wear it, don’t give it to someone else,” ensuring only the highest quality items were picked out and distributed. This phrase was repeated and reinforced throughout the job. It became our mantra every time we would pick up an item of clothing. All employees there were volunteers and all products came from generous donations.
The shelves were stacked with goods, fresh fruits and vegetables stored, milk, eggs, meats and other essentials refrigerated/frozen, plates, cutlery, home décor, blankets, clothing, jackets, etc. all piled gracefully on hangers and shelves. The idea was to experience shopping in a real store, except that everything was FREE! This ensured that families could get what they needed, with an emphasis on feeling dignified and unashamed. I truly LOVED how Good Shepherd was aware of the stigma of homelessness or the social shame associated with being a family in need and did their best to mitigate it. The regulation system was in place via the use of membership colour-coded cards per family size, as well as colour-coded stickers on items corresponding to those family sizes. This system helped ensure that no one got more than their share.
Currently, the Good Shepherd Centre serves 110 families a day, yet plans to expand further. I had the personal pleasure of helping a Syrian Family select coats and blankets. This was a heart-wrenching experience because the one boy could not find a jacket that fit him and the mother thought the blanket was too light for her to sleep with. Unlike myself, however, this family was unable to “just go to another store” to check out stocks on the item: they were stuck with this location or n o t h i n g . Nonetheless, these guests remained very polite, quite understanding of the circumstance.
While I wished I could have done more to help, this experience really taught me a lot about my life and how easily I take things for granted. More importantly, I saw leadership in action in a way that did not encompass meanings of traditional aggression or authority – in a way that dignified, respected and humanized those that needed aid.
Stay humble Marauders, stay Leaders,
– Mariam (: