Since it is Volunteer Appreciation Week we are collaborating with Foodsharing Ottawa to spotlight one of our Street Outreach volunteers.
Enjoy the article!!
It’s an unforgivingly cold Sunday afternoon in Ottawa as Shelda and a few other volunteers make their last round in the Centretown neighbourhood, exchanging homemade sandwiches, snacks, baked goods, and meals for smiles and conversation. Most of the folks that Shelda provides food to on the streets are homeless, individuals or families receiving low income or limited government subsidies, or are passing through hard times as the price of rent, food, and basic necessities sky rocket to all time highs. It’s been close to over a year that Shelda has been doing this work through the Ottawa Innercity Ministries, but only a few months since her path crossed with Foodsharing Ottawa.
But, let’s start from the very beginning.
Shelda grew up in Pembroke, a small town of about 15,000 people, before moving to Toronto during the mid 80s. A rescuer by nature and having frugality ingrained at a young age, Shelda was always comfortable with connecting the dots and problem-solving, principles that she believes have brought her full circle to the work she’s doing now. They also propelled her into her teaching career, and in 1988 Shelda moved to Ottawa after studying at York University’s Glendon campus. She took a job as a Special Education Teacher, her first passion, and over the course of several years, getting married, having her daughter, and pivoting back to teaching primary grade classes, she went on to spend the last couple years of her career with the Ottawa School Board teaching special education. After a 32 year career, it was a full circle moment for Shelda, where her passion for teaching met with profound meaning and purpose once again.
After retiring, and in the summer of 2021, Shelda credits walking in and around her neighbourhood to discovering one opportunity after another. She took up volunteering at the Ottawa Innercity Ministries first and completed a course in street engagement training there, before beginning her weekly Sunday walking route that served about 60 people each time, on average. Over the weeks and months that followed, Shelda got to know everyone, their names, their food preferences, and their personalities. The streets of Ottawa seemed to be transforming into Shelda’s new classroom, as she sought new ways to make sure everyone felt included and seen. She started to tailor the food options based on what folks liked and wanted, and strived to always provide dignity through choice, rather than a set handout.
With time, consistency, and dedication, trust began to build within the community, despite the escalating isolation that crept in with the pandemic. With COVID-19 challenges that increased the number of people in need of food, her walking route more than doubled from a 2 hour stroll to a 4 hour hike. But it wasn’t the extra steps or the frigid weather that risked slowing Shelda down. To keep up and meet the demand for food, they began to look beyond their own pantries for other resources in the community.
Which brings us full circle…
To Youtube. Just kidding, well not really. Shelda’s second opportunity came to life after watching Youtube videos on living frugally, which prompted her to look into food waste organizations in the UK, the US, and Canada. After a quick google search, she stumbled on Foodsharing Ottawa. She had always said to her husband that if she could find a food waste organization in Ottawa she would join it, and they did! Although Ottawa Innercity Ministries wasn’t a Foodsharing Ottawa partner at the time, Shelda realized that both organizations had the potential to beautifully compliment one another, with herself being the missing link between the two.
The dots began to connect again. Shelda began rescuing food through Foodsharing Ottawa food donors, like Metro, Mamie Clafoutis, and Microgreens Ottawa, in December 2022. Suddenly she was able to provide even more choice to the folks she was serving on the street, and it empowered her to get creative by making recipes at home, based on what she was able to rescue that day. With the influx of more fresh food and variety, Shelda and her peers now provide enough meals to reach more than 100 people each week.
While it’s challenging to see the number of people in need of food rise, Shelda reflects on the positive changes she has seen in the last year, like people getting apartments and a place to live off the street. In Shelda’s words, “it feels like the whole community is helping me help the community.” Local stores supply local volunteers with surplus food to support local residents, and that tight knit neighborhood feel brings a sense of hope, community, and significance even in the coldest of months.
Thank you Shelda, for offering your time, sharing your story with us, and continuing to be a connector and community builder in our city.
About Foodsharing Ottawa
Foodsharing Ottawa was founded in 2015 by a group of volunteers passionate about reducing food waste. Their mission is to rescue surplus food from local businesses such as grocery stores and restaurants, and donate it back to the community where it’s needed. Through this work, they strive to reduce the environmental impact of food waste and address food insecurity in our community. They currently work with over 45 food donors and charity partners combined and a growing volunteer base to redistribute over 42,000 pounds of surplus food per year. To get involved: https://foodsharingottawa.com/volunteer
About Ottawa Innercity Ministries
Ottawa Innercity Ministries is a registered charity, operating since 1988, with a mission to work alongside people experiencing poverty and homelessness, demonstrate the message of Christ in deed and word, show compassion, build self esteem and empower individuals through a strength-based approach. Their vision is one where we are a community working towards building a just society where people are valued, shown dignity and respect and are given opportunity to attain a higher quality of life. To get involved: https://www.ottawainnercityministries.ca/get-involved
Written by Julia Hunter