Volunteers at the heart ofthe Saanich Peninsula

Sidney volunteers automatically factor into decision-making processes at town hall.

  • Tue Dec 30th, 2014 7:00pm
  • News

Volunteer Bill Judge

Volunteers at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Sidney served up a generous helping of stuffing, gravy, and holiday cheer at the church’s 10th annual Turkey Dinner, Dec. 17.

About 30 volunteers cooked and served more than 150 platefuls for community members. The dinner is a holiday tradition hosted by members of the St. Andrew’s soup kitchen, held every Wednesday for the past 11 years. To date, St. Andrew’s volunteers have served more than 65,000 bowls of soup.

The soup kitchen makes up a fraction of Sidney’s volunteer community. More than 1,100 people give their time to local organizations, churches and initiatives in the town. Beacon Community Services, on its own, coordinates 560 volunteers.

Sidney’s population in 2011 was almost 11,200, according to the annual census by Statistics Canada. That means roughly 10 per cent of Sidney’s population actively volunteers.

Town councillor Tim Chad says these numbers don’t surprise him.

He names volunteer-heavy organizations such as the Mary Winspear Centre, Beacon Community Services and the SHOAL Centre as pillars of the town.

“You’ve got oodles of volunteers. The volunteers overflow into all of the three communities on the Peninsula — they interchange,” he said. “If somebody needs help, there’s always help there.”

Chad moved to Sidney in 1973 and remembers a vibrant volunteer community in a town of 4,000 people. The population has since more than doubled, but Chad said, “the volunteers have just grown with it.”

Sidney volunteers automatically factor into decision-making processes at town hall, according to Chad. Local groups such as the mayor’s task force, the advisory planning committee, and the volunteer fire department are run almost exclusively by volunteers.

Amongst larger volunteer organizations, are smaller groups such as the St. Andrew’s soup kitchen. Allison Humphreys founded the kitchen with her soup-sister Donna Godwin in 2003. She said the initiative started as a way to feed the hungry in Sidney but quickly grew to include other community members, mostly seniors looking for company. The soup kitchen is completely self-sustained through the donations of its members, according to Humphreys.

“We have a lot of people who have been recently widowed and they know they’re not judged here — they know they can just come, have a bowl of soup and meet some new people,” Humphreys said. “A lot of friendships have started here and a few romances — we’ve had a few romances blossom here.”

Turkey dinners became a tradition in 2005 when Godwin organized the first Christmas lunch at St. Andrew’s. “If it wasn’t for Donna, we wouldn’t have carried on for the past 10 years,” Humphreys said about Godwin, who is currently in hospital and was unable to attend this year’s event.

This year, Thrifty Foods donated 150 lbs. of carved turkey to the event. Humphreys cooked the meat with the help of Bill Judge, an 88-year-old volunteer and decade-long soup kitchen member.

A retired air force medic, Judge started volunteering in the late 1960s. At the time, he worked with special needs children in Ottawa. Now, he divides his time between St. Andrew’s soup kitchen and local choirs. In the past, he also volunteered as a caller for wheelchair square-dancing.

“People are really appreciative of what we do. Sidney wouldn’t be the same place at all — it could not be the same place — without volunteers, there’s just no way,” Judge said, adding that the town would be left in the dark ages without its volunteers.

Humphreys agrees. “Sidney would not be itself without the volunteer base that we have,” she said. “It wouldn’t be the close-knit community that we are.”

— Zoe Todd/News Contributor