Ongoing layoffs result in increase in available volunteers 


Calgary’s unemployment rate has reached a 6.6 per cent high, up 2.2 per cent since November 2014.

A positive consequence is being realized by some non-profit organizations. Instead of a lack of volunteers, there are more.

“People see this as something that’s a unique opportunity for them to give their natural gifts and abilities in a way that they might not if they were going to the Mustard Seed or Inn From the Cold,” explains Hearts & Hammers founder Dave Bonk.

Hearts & Hammers is a non-profit organization based in Calgary, Alta, that provides renovations for locals in need with mobility challenges, according to their website.

It’s organizations like Hearts & Hammers, a volunteer-run team, that have not only doubled in donations in the last year, but have seen more volunteers willing to help out.

“This is a little bit different, more unique, so I think it’s a new market of volunteers,” says Bonk. “They like the renovation, they like the home, they like our mission, so volunteers are contacting us and we’re getting these projects done through their generosity.”volunteersThe “Nickolas” project was completed this summer by the Hearts and Hammers team with the help of Skyline Concrete Services, who donated the front walk way.
Photo courtesy of Dave Bonk, Hearts & Hammers

With sponsors like Rona and Home Depot donating building supplies, Bonk and his team have helped more families than usual this year. Their recent client, the Ramirez family, was one such customer. A member of the family had been bedridden, but thanks to the renovations done by Bonk’s team, he can now get around the house and even suntan on their new deck in the warmer months.

Another Hearts & Hammers client is 84-year-old Artina.  An artist who lives in the neighbourhood of Ogden, Artina has no access to her washer and dryer or her painting supplies. Hearts & Hammers is working on making it possible for her to do her laundry and the thing she loves most: painting.

Bonk’s organization is helping his clients and Calgary as a whole.

 “We’re able to keep families living together in their home and community, which is a huge benefit to them,” says Bonk.

“[It] also keeps them out of the social system and from having to go into assisted living. This benefit is realized just within a few months to a year. It makes fiscal sense to keep people living in their home where they can sustain themselves rather than having them drawing on our social system and taxes.”

foodbank infoGraphic by Justina Deardoff
Click image to open full version
The Calgary Food Bank is seeing a similar influx of volunteers. Since 2008, Food Bank usage has gone up 82.8 per cent, and volunteers are feeling the heat this holiday season as families reach out to them.

Shawna Ogston of the Calgary Food Bank says this will be a continuing trend for months to come.

“Companies are laying people off everyday and we know it takes them a few months to use up their safety net and other resources that they may have,” says Ogston.

“We know from the trends that we’ve seen since we’ve been doing this for 30 years in our experience of the boom and bust, that it’s going to take a few months for the recently laid off if they have to have an emergency crisis to come to us. So we don’t see things lightening up for a good six months or so.”

However, they not only have seen an increase in volunteers, but donations as well.

“Calgarians have really stepped up. Safeway is giving us double of what we normally see. Schools, if they normally had three donation boxes they now have 15,” says Ogston.

Ogston says having volunteer hours is an asset when people meet with prospective employers.

While Hearts & Hammers is doing fine, many of the city’s other charities are not having the same experience. The Calgary Food Bank has seen this despite the support of extra hands.

“We have seen a dip in donations because some of our food industry partners have merged or moved, so that did affect those bulk donations coming in,” explains Ogston.DeardroffVolunteerFBThe Calgary Food Bank’s goal is to continue to have quality nutrition hampers that can give 7-10 days worth of food for families. Some food banks have to cut down on their hampers because of lack of supplies – but this year, with extra hands, the Calgary Food Bank is striving to reach this goal this busy holiday season.
Photo courtesy of Jodi Egan, the Calgary Food Bank

Bonk recalls what Layne Walters, a sponsor and friend to Hearts & Hammers, said to him: that he still donates even though he and investors like him are getting beat up by the market today.

“Basically it gets him focused on others and gives him a perspective of also being grateful,” Bonk says. “It just gets his focus off of the small fears and concerns that are common in the market right now and it refocuses him. He’s able to make good decisions and have courage, and share that with his clients.”.

In this economic downturn many are spending their time helping out as much as they can. Creating Hearts & Hammers has caused Bonk to dedicate a chunk of his time to volunteering, which he wasn’t previously doing.

“It certainly got my focus off of working all the time and money and what can I get for myself,” he explains. “The need that I see out there, that people living with mobility challenges are losing their homes or living on the streets or getting separated from their families, I think, my god, I have enough. And I’m grateful, even though I don’t spend as much time working and the cash flow isn’t financially abundant, I’m more fulfilled.”

Thumbnail courtesy of Jodi Egan, the Calgary Food Bank

The editor responsible for this article is Caroline Fyvie,

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