CORNWALL, Ontario – Across Canada, April 7 to 13 marks National Volunteer Week. Many community members agree that our region is unique for its active volunteerism, like Pauline Brown, Agapè Centre Volunteer Coordinator, who sees acts of kindness and giving back on a daily basis.
“It’s surprising and wonderful how everyone comes together in Cornwall,” said Brown, who has been working for the Centre since 2017, and overseeing volunteers for a year. “Without volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to serve our community the way we do; we would never keep up. They are a great lot…it opens my eyes. Our community is very lucky.”
Brown explained that the Agapè Centre runs on volunteerism and at any given time there may be 70 to 80 individuals actively donating their time. Every volunteer is different, with some dropping in for hours at a time throughout the week, and others stopping by for a shorter time frame every single day. Brown said that her most faithful group of volunteers, typically comprised of retired individuals, have a schedule they follow and always inform her when they can or can’t make it. Brown said she is often surprised by some of the individuals who come in and don’t necessarily advertise their philanthropy, donating their time very personally and privately. She sees individuals of a plethora of career backgrounds, from business owners, to police officers and paramedics.
“I think it’s something in their heart,” said Brown. “Something they want and they get fulfilled with doing it. There’s a few…that come to volunteer, and you’d never think (they’d be here). No one even knows they’re here. It’s something inside of them, they want to do to give back.”
Volunteers at the Centre typically spend their time in the soup kitchen, food bank, thrift store or sorting donations, according to Brown. The soup kitchen can see up to 140 individuals on a daily basis, all served by volunteers who also prepare and clean up. Sometimes groups will come in with schools and churches to help in every department. Brown said that recently a high school student returned to donate a number of eggs hours after noticing the Centre food bank was running low while volunteering with his class. Brown believes that more young people would enjoy and feel fulfilled with volunteering, and hopes that more are enticed to donate their time at the Centre.
In April, the Centre typically holds an appreciation brunch and awards every volunteer with a certificate of gratitude. Over 60 volunteers were able to make it to the most recent Christmas celebration, and over 30 attended the Agapè Centre Spring Fling. Brown said that the different departments of volunteers are like families, working together to better their community,while always enjoying each others’ company. Volunteers are also awarded $10 thrift store gift certificates after serving over 40 hours of work, but most often donate it back for someone else to use.
Mike Roy, an Agapè Centre volunteer of over three years, said that once he retired, volunteering at the Centre came naturally to him. He also volunteers with the St. Andrews Knights of Columbus, and coordinates food drives to benefit the Centre.
Similarly, Eileen Charbonneau, an Agapè Centre volunteer of over two years, decided to donate her time after retiring and now helps to prepare food in the soup kitchen every Monday and Friday.
“If it’s a holiday, or we’re not open, or it’s the weekend, I miss it (here). I really do miss it. I miss the team I am working with, the people who come in to eat. They always have a smile on their face, they are always happy and they appreciate it,” said Charbonneau.
“There’s a big need (for volunteering) in the community,” she added. “For a lot of people, this might be their only meal for the day, so we like to provide a nutritious meals for them. Sometimes when it’s a Monday, they haven’t eaten all weekend. Again, we like to help the community in any way we can.”
Charbonneau reflected on how volunteering can lead to many different opportunities, whether they be personal or professional, and giving back always opens unexpected doors.
“They do it right from the heart. They’re amazing and very sincere with it all,” said Brown appreciatively.