Fort York Food Bank. Annual Open House. 21 November 2018.

Volunteer Profile

Ravi Sreedharan

Board Chair Ravi Sreedharan helped found FYFB over eight years ago. A busy consultant who travels around the world working on large business transactions, Ravi can still be found in FYFB on Saturdays, interviewing clients, stocking shelves and tracking the client data that helps drive FYFB's programs. Ravi recently shared his thoughts on how FYFB has evolved and the tremendous impact it has had on both himself and his community.

You've been with FYFB since it began in February of 1998. How did it originate?

FYFB emerged from the client service group of the Daily Bread Food Bank when it was located on Lakeshore Boulevard and Bathurst. Daily Bread was moving its operations to Etobicoke and it asked a core group of client-service volunteers to set-up a reliable agency to help the downtown community. That's how FYFB got its start.

How has FYFB evolved?

We've really changed in two ways over the past eight years.

First, our programming has become more holistic in how we work with people. We began as an emergency food program. But as we worked with the downtown community, we realized that food alone was insufficient.

"We wanted to understand why people came to us, and to help them in a holistic way without duplicating services that already existed in the community."

This led us to begin our counseling and advocacy program that works towards eliminating hunger by helping clients with the root causes that brought them to FYFB in the first place.

Next, our Drop-In Centre began as many of our clients did not have access to community spaces that allowed them to interact and learn from their peers.

Many people don't realize that a large part of our volunteer base is current and past clients. It is an important part of helping people to get them involved, gaining communications and team skills that help them to re-engage with the workforce.

Second, while we remain a grassroots, client-driven organization, FYFB has created a strong governance structure with a professional board that represents the diversity of our community. The Board provides FYFB with a diverse range of skill sets, accountability to our stakeholders and effective strategic planning that has helped us grow in a responsible and focused manner.

What is FYFB's most urgent need?

A sustainable funding base is our greatest challenge. It's our culture and our belief to deliver programs that respond to our clients needs, not to funding programs, and, to not duplicate services that exist in our community. As a result, our funding base doesn't include government grants at the moment.

But this also gives us a tremendous opportunity to reach out to our community - friends, colleagues, neighbours, family, and businesses - to engage them in what we are doing. It is a large group of people contributing to the extent that they can afford to give that is really going to make a difference in helping us to be sustainable.

"I would invite every person in our community who shares our commitment to get involved and give at this time."

You have a very busy professional career, what drives you to spend so much of your time at FYFB?

FYFB is all about people helping people in our community.

"Our volunteers are like a family - they have tremendous commitment and dedication."

Each of us knows we play an important role and we depend on each other to deliver services our community needs. It's brought me a lot of happiness. Most of all, I think it is seeing the positive impact we have on people's lives when I come in to help on Saturdays. That really motivates me.

Has there been a particular moment at FYFB that has defined your experience?

It has really been a collection of positive experiences. But I think our first program coordinator Adam Cook had the strongest impact on me as he really created the respectful environment we have at FYFB today. Adam was a great leader and motivator to everyone, and inspired me and our other great volunteers such as Jim Ward and Devi Arasanaygam who helped start FYFB. Adam passed away six years ago, but his commitment to creating a safe and supportive place that welcomes everyone lives on today.

What makes FYFB such as special place?

FYFB is all about people. Every single volunteer and client has a personal interaction at FYFB that helps them to understand what their neighbours lives are like.

"In the end, that's what a community is all about - it's about people helping people."

Volunteer orientation sessions are held at 2:00pm on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of each month. Click here to register online or drop by the Food Bank for more information.

photography courtesy of Claire Del Net

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