Jake has learned valuable lessons about poverty while volunteering at The Good Shepherd Centre

 

It’s a sunny Saturday morning and 19-year-old Jake Poirier is mixing salad in the kitchen of The Good Shepherd Centre.

He’s part of a dedicated team of volunteers that helps prepare meals for the Hot Meal Program, which last year, served 69,818 meals to people in need.

Jake has been volunteering at The Centre for five years. He decided he wanted to make a difference in the community when he was just 14.

“I live a privileged life. I was raised by amazing parents and have a great family support system. Through that experience, I’ve had an interest in giving back,” says Jake. “I did some research and learned about Good Shepherd.”

When Jake started volunteering at The Good Shepherd Centre, on Mary Street in Hamilton, he was the youngest member of the food prep team. He was nervous at first but quickly felt right at home.

“I was extremely young when I started and the other volunteers were much older than me,” he says. “They all accepted me and treated me as one of their own.”

For the first two years, Jake’s parents made the 30-minute drive to and from The Centre every second Saturday. When he got his driver’s license, he volunteered every Saturday in food prep and every second Wednesday evening in the laundry.

Jake finds both of his volunteer assignments very rewarding but says he particularly enjoys the face-to-face interaction with clients when he’s working in the laundry.

“I usually bring a book or music with me, but I never get the chance to touch them because I’m talking to the men, getting to know them, and they’re getting to know me,” he says. “I can either do their laundry for them, or I can share that knowledge with them and help them do it.”

Volunteering at The Centre has had a profound impact on Jake’s outlook on life. He says he’s learned never to judge a book by its cover and that poverty can happen to anyone.

“A couple of years ago, when I was helping serve food, I saw a guy in a suit eating at one of the tables,” remembers Jake. “It didn’t click in my head why a guy in a suit would be there. I later found out that he had just been laid off and he and his wife had separated. He had no house – just a car – and the only outfits he had were suits from work. It was a very humbling experience.”

Jake balances his volunteer work with a summer job with the Ministry of Community and Social Services. In September, he returns to Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, where he is entering his second year of the Bachelor of Social Work program. Once he graduates, he wants to work as a social worker for a couple of years and then apply to become a police officer.

Whatever path he chooses, there’s little doubt that this young man is going to make his mark and help create a more compassionate and welcoming community for people in need.