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  • Day483

    How not to volunteer

    January 6, 2019 in Canada ⋅ 🌬 -27 °C

    Christmas was surprisingly tolerable by myself, largely because I wasn't by myself. My family and friends made sure of that! I spent a lot of time on the phone and messaging while also bee-bopping to various gatherings at other people's houses that decided to stay through the holidays.
    I also saw a post on the town's facebook page asking for volunteers to help put together the food and toy hampers for needy families and children on Christmas Eve. I thought, "that will be a perfect way to congratulate myself for being a great and caring human while investing little to no time. Perfect!" So, on Christmas Eve I showed up at the elementary gym at the facebook-indicated time and discovered that my little idea of showing up for, ummmm, maybe a half-hour, was sorely wrong.
    There was a TON of stuff that needed to be sorted and arranged and prepared into the gift bags for each of the 900 children on a list that the organizers had. 0_o 900?! The town's population is only 1,500! Holy moly. After about 3 hours of doing more activity than I've done in months, I left to have lunch. When I returned, the food had arrived which was donated by private individuals, companies and groups. Four hundred 20 lb turkeys. Enough so every household in Igloolik could have a turkey dinner. Do you know what 400 turkeys looks like laid out in a school gym? We were like the images you see of volunteers passing sandbags to shore up homes and towns against rising floodwaters. Potatoes were unloaded off pickup trucks in 50lb bags. Turkeys were offloaded in 60-80 lb boxes. Stuffing, cranberry sauce, and rice came in. It was incredible. When I stopped to think about it, it became more incredible given our location.
    The food drive is sponsored by a not-for-profit organization called "Feed Nunavut". Their objective is to ease food insecurity in the North. Surveys find that a full 70% of Northern families skip a meal at least once per month. This organization spotlights every year a few projects to focus donations on for folks wanting to do that sort of thing. Igloolik's holiday food and toy drive is one such project. Most of the toys and gifts came from Southern Canada donations and even a few United States donations as well. But what is impressive is that for the food, people give money and then someone here in Igloolik has to figure out how to buy the food in Ottawa, get it shipped here, pick it up at the airport, store it somewhere, and then bring it to the gym. This is a feat anywhere, but in Igloolik!! Even more so. A company started here in Igloolik, Arctic Fresh, donated their money, time, and resources. They bought the turkeys at cost in Ottawa and stored them in their warehouse in Ottawa. Then, the airlines of Canadian North and First Air (not sure which one donated) donated, or heavily discounted the freight up here. I mean, can you imagine the cost to ship 8,000 lbs of turkeys? It costs $500 to ship 100lbs down south.
    More volunteers met the freight at the airport and unloaded all those potatoes, turkeys, stuffing, etc, by hand. BY HAND. Then, stored it and unloaded it again at the gym where volunteers started putting together the fixins for the turkey dinner. They laid out a turkey every 1-2ft in the gym and then a bag of potatoes which had been prepared by the volunteers divvying up the larger 50lb bags of potatoes. Stuffing and other fixings came next. Finally, there were supposed to be mandarin oranges.
    Ah, the mandarin oranges....such a nice gesture.....if they hadn't been right at their expiration and rotten! One of the volunteers discovered that many of the donated boxes of mandarins were terribly rotten, to the point that the boxes were sometimes leaking putrefied orange juice. Someone in charge made the decision that we could not, in good conscience, give these rotten things to people. So, we had to go through, by hand, every single box and separate the good oranges from the bad. Wow. Tedious. Let me offer some unsolicited advice: when volunteering, do not open the box of oranges. Assume they are good and be secure in your altruism and holiness. Otherwise, you will spend hours hunkered over fruit trying to not put your fingers through one more rotten orange and sneeze from the aerosolizing mold.
    Finally, all the dinners had to be bagged or boxed for delivery. The hamlet agreed to allow their school bus to be driven around for deliveries and the school bus driver volunteered to spend his Christmas Eve driving around house to house.
    It was impressive to see all the work and time that went into the whole operation. I gave up the ghost at 5:30pm and returned home with achy feet and a very tired back. I was sore for 3 days. I laughed at my grand plan to feel good about myself backfiring when I actually had to work. I should have just donated money and stayed on the couch. That's a smarter move. That's your second lesson ladies and gentlemen. First lesson is: no mandarin oranges. Second: write a check.
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