Economic downturn leads to uptick in volunteers in Calgary

Laid off workers in Calgary are donating their time to help non-profit groups that help the hungry and the homeless.

'I intend on coming in until I find a new position,' says volunteer who lost his banking job in October

Michael Stock, who used to work at a bank, now volunteers at a different kind of bank. (CBC)

Michael Stock had a good paying job.

The 24-year-old was earning $50,000 at a national bank, but in October he fell victim to what thousands of other Calgary employees have suffered this year — the dreaded company restructuring.

He found himself out of work and out of his regular routine, so he decided to sign up as a volunteer at the Calgary Food Bank. He's been filling two or three hour shifts every weekday for several weeks.  

"I wanted to have something that added structure to my day and do something that would give back to the community as well," said Stock while on a recent break from bagging apples.  

Michael Stock sorts apples for the Calgary Food Bank. He's been volunteering his time since he lost his job in October. (CBC)

The born-and-raised Calgarian quickly discovered he's not the only victim of a slumping economy who's decided to do good.   

"I've also met people in a similar situation, where they're looking for work as well, they kind of just got laid off from their positions as well so you find common ground with people very quickly here as well."    

While the food bank doesn't have the exact number of workers-turned-volunteers that it's recently signed up, it does say there are several people from all sectors, including oil and gas, who are donating their time.

"The nice thing is that we're able to have flexible shifts and bring them on board and they're able to help us right away," said Shawna Ogston, who speaks for the Calgary Food Bank.  

Shawna Ogston, a spokesperson for the Calgary Food Bank, says laid off workers are helping to match an increase in demand at the food bank. (CBC)

The surge couldn't have come at a better time, as some companies are no longer setting aside special days for employees to volunteer at the food bank because of recent job cuts. 

"That's where these individuals are greatly stepping in and making sure the need is still met," said Ogston.

A spokesperson for Propellus, a local company that provides a wide range of services for non-profit groups, including volunteer co-ordination, says some agencies are reporting a record number of volunteer applications.

"People truly have a good heart," said Sarah Schmidt with Propellus. 

"Part of that is due to the holiday season, so we always see an increase there. But this year in particular, because of the economic downturn, we see some folks who are out of work, who still want to stay busy or give back or to reshape or refocus their careers, so they're getting out there and trying to volunteer."

Sarah Schmidt with Propellus says some non-profit groups are reporting a record number of volunteer applications. (CBC )

She says because more people are offering to help, some agencies are now booking volunteer shifts into the new year. 

That can be a good thing for the heart, soul and mind. 

"There's a relationship to volunteering (and mental health), endorphins are released when you volunteer, a lot like a runner's high," said Ogston.

Stock says he's been able to make connections and share other stories with people who've been laid off. His new schedule includes a few hours at the food bank in the morning and then focusing on the job hunt in the afternoon.

"I intend on coming in until I find a new position," he said.  


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