The Alex’s food center is part of a national movement to develop places where people can gather to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food.
“I‘ve stayed all this time in part because, as a volunteer, I feel valued and respected. That feeling carries through to the clients we all serve.”
Millie first volunteered at The Alex five years ago, as she explored what meaningful retirement could look like. She knew she wanted to help out at a needs-based organization and began to volunteer twice a week at The Alex Community Food Centre. Beyond the satisfaction of answering the immediate needs of Calgarians who walk through the door at the centre, Millie deeply values the community of real friendship she’s enjoyed at The Alex.
“I‘ve stayed all this time in part because, as a volunteer, I feel valued and respected. That feeling carries through to the community members we all serve. They are respected when they come in, and are treated with dignity and friendship. For example, we have a lady with some mobility issues who comes regularly. She parks near the back door and asks if somebody will go ask Millie to do her shopping. And I am so happy to get to be her personal shopper.”
The Alex Community Food Centre is part of a national movement to develop places where people can gather to grow, cook, share and advocate for good food. But as Millie knows, her work goes far beyond food – she’s helping to create transformational change for everyone who comes through the doors.
“I’ve seen community members come in for the first time, especially around the lunch meal. They’re not sure what they’re supposed to do, so we help get them seated. And they strike up conversations with people about programs, other agencies, how to get connected, how to navigate the red tape processes that they might need access to. They make friends. For some seniors, the Community Food Centre becomes a social place for them, a place where they can feel connected and not be alone.
“When we were going through COVID, we couldn’t serve people in the Community Food Centre itself – we were handing out meals to go instead – and people were so eager to get back to that community once the doors opened. Today, the need is greater than ever. The numbers are such that we’re clearing tables as fast as we can to get the next group of people seated. People really need community.”
The Alex volunteers and staff alike understand that social isolation is as much of a problem as food insecurity and poverty. A food bank is the equivalent of an emergency room – you have a food crisis, and you get a crisis response. Our Community Food Centre, on the other hand, addresses the broader social needs of people who are experiencing food insecurity, and is about building individual health as well as community health. When people are connected to their communities, they’re actually building community together.
“Last week a gentleman came in,” says Millie. “As he was leaving, he said to me: ‘You changed my world, if only for today.’ That’s stuck with me. For me, volunteering at The Alex is all about the people. It’s the people.”