Every Wednesday morning at 8:30 am, the volunteer team arrives at the Food Centre to start the prep on the weekly community meal. Without fail, community meal volunteer Mike has already arrived ahead of the crew and is diligently getting the space ready for the work ahead.
Apron on, coffee pot plugged in, greeting each person by name with a cheery "hello", Mike is already halfway through sanitizing the entire kitchen. "I feel like I have spent most of my life taking from people, volunteering at the Food Centre is my chance to give back."
A now familiar fixture at the Food Centre, Mike’s comfort level was not always this high. His first experience at the Centre was a men’s yoga program, which he had never tried before, but was keen to try. After yoga, he moved on to a series of cooking lessons, led by staffer Rob MacNeish.
Having never spent any time in the kitchen, Mike was understandably nervous at the thought of preparing a meal. "With Rob's encouragement, I realized cooking should not be something to be afraid of", said Mike. "Helping prepare and serve a meal for the group was a real learning curve, but it built up my confidence."
When the cooking sessions ended, Mike wanted to stay connected to the Centre. He approached the staff about volunteering and quickly became a master of the dish room, helping keep the endless tide of pots, pans, cutlery and dishes at bay. (Want to know where something can be found in the kitchen....? Mike is the "go-to" person).
When a spot opened up on the Wednesday meal prep team, Mike was eager to get back into the kitchen: "I have learned so much in the past few months,” he says. "I've been introduced to a whole new world of vegetables and can now recognize many easily.....I love eggplant!"
Working with Chef Andru has also opened Mike’s eyes to new flavours and ingredients. "If I don't know what something is, or how to cut it, I now have the confidence to ask for help". Much to Andru's delight, Mike has even overcome his trepidation of tofu, realizing that it can be quite delicious and nutritious.
A fairly recent transplant to North Dartmouth, Mike says his experience at the Centre has made him determined to put down roots here, saying "he's in it for the long haul."
"I feel like this place has taught me so much, not just kitchen skills. Being here has taught me patience and tolerance, but also humility’” says Mike. ”I'm no longer a taker, but a giver."
When asked how he feels when he leaves the Centre, Mike answers quietly, but with vehemence. "Volunteering here makes me feel fulfilled, I feel part of the community in a way I never have before."