by Tyler ORTON
The traffic running through the Abbotsford Community Services Food Bank is at its peak this time of year.
The bottom floor is packed with volunteers handing out food hampers, while the Christmas Bureau upstairs is lined with shelves full of gifts for children and teens. Seniors, single parents and workers trying to get by on minimum wage are leaving the centre with food and presents for the holidays.
“I lived in Vancouver as a single mom on welfare and there wasn’t, in those days, anything,” says Gina Williams, a volunteer at the Abbotsford Food Bank and Christmas Bureau.
Holding a roll of wrapping paper in her hands, her eyes swell as she talks about the food bank clients she’s come to consider kin.
“They’re just a great bunch of people,” Williams says. “You treat them like family; you get emotional when you see them struggling.”
Williams has been at the food bank for over five years. She comes in four days a week during the holiday season, while her Friday nights are spent volunteering for Operation Red Nose, ensuring that drivers who imbibe in a little holiday cheer get home safely.
After retiring as an administrator at the Royal Bank of Canada, Williams says she felt compelled to help out the community she’s lived in for nearly 25 years.
“I like to give back, but I don’t have the money. So this is my way,” Williams says.
Her typical day is spent organizing groceries, placing them into food hampers and handing out donations to the people who come by. Williams says she loves interacting with the same children who’ve been visiting the food bank for years. One young girl always makes a beeline for the bread shelf, Williams says.
There, she will grab a bag of buns and spend her time sitting on the stairs munching on a dinner roll.
“She’s just a little cutie. She doesn’t bother anybody,” Williams says. “So they know, when she comes in, to get the buns ready because that’s exactly what she’s going to do.”
With the holiday season in full swing, the Christmas Bureau’s doors are now open and its shelves are re-stocked each night with everything from doll houses to action figures. After choosing new gifts for their children, parents can head downstairs and pick up a food hamper that includes festive staples such as turkey and mandarin oranges.
Now a grandmother, Williams says one of her biggest delights while working in the Christmas Bureau is when she finds out a child is a bookworm.
“I always slip them extra (books) because I figure if a kid nowadays is reading then, my God, let them read,” she says.
Williams says the only disheartening thing about her experience is that she’s seeing a lot new faces this year. Still, she says it’s the people she sees all the time that keep bringing her back.
“I’ve met some really good friends here. They’re just wonderful people.”