It’s been said one good turn deserves another.
That sentiment could be used to describe the relationship Epic Opportunities enjoys with Winnipeg Harvest, another non-profit organization with whom it shares close ties.
At least once a week several people supported through Epic Opportunities’ day services volunteer at Harvest’s Winnipeg Avenue warehouse or on one of its delivery vehicles. Some of those same individuals have also taken part in training courses offered by the Winnipeg food bank which aided them in their search to find paid, meaningful employment.
Jess Baumung, a manager with Epic Opportunities, says the relationship with Harvest began about two years ago as part of an effort to find volunteer and training opportunities for people Epic supports. It proved to be such a positive experience for everyone involved that it has continued to this day.
“It’s a real honest and caring place to go. It’s a very open environment and I think that’s what makes people so comfortable going there. You walk in and it’s a bunch of people you know,” Baumung says.
“[And] the training they offer is great, there’s a real range of options. It’s a real two-way street. Their attitude is ‘You invest in us and we’ll invest in you’.”
David, who is supported by Epic Opportunities, has been volunteering at Harvest for the past two years and has done everything from sorting food in the warehouse to assisting drivers on deliveries.
Although it began as a way to hone his employment skills when the hours he was offered by his employer were reduced, David says it has evolved into something more.
“When I’m on the truck and bringing people food and I see the smiles on people’s faces…that makes me feel good,” he says. “And they treat me so good there. I have my mom and dad here but they are like my second family [at Harvest].”
Grace Weigelt, Volunteer Services Manager for Winnipeg Harvest, says Epic Opportunities is one of a number of day programs that support the food bank, which supplies food to more than 63,000 people each month. On any given day there are as many as 150 volunteers at Harvest, with nearly half of them connected with a community-based agency.
Weigelt says their contributions are vital to Winnipeg Harvest’s efforts to move 13.7 million pounds of food through its warehouse each year.
“Volunteers are the heart of Winnipeg Harvest. We couldn’t do what we do without them,” she says.
“It doesn’t matter what your ability level is we have a place for you,” she adds. “We want to be accessible for everyone. That’s something we are always looking to be better at.”
Weigelt says one of the ways Harvest tries to pay it forward with volunteers is by offering training programs designed to help them find employment. Current options include forklift operator, food handling certification, computer training, warehousing, reception and administration. Kelly, who is supported by Epic Opportunities, graduated from Harvest’s kitchen training program last year and subsequently attended a month-long culinary arts program at R.B. Russell. He is currently looking for full-time employment in the restaurant industry.
“Our philosophy here is we don’t want [the food bank] to exist. A big step in that direction is helping people to find employment,” Weigelt says.