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Social work students engage in grassroots community volunteer work

Social work students packing supplies at the Community Food Sharing Association.

By Laura Woodford

Dr. Mike Devine and his students could recently be found surrounded by packages of macaroni, jars of peanut butter and tins of fruit.

As part of the Social Work Community Development 4312 class, Dr. Devine and his students were at the Community Food Sharing Association's warehouse in St. John's, helping to sort and box donations for distribution to food banks across the province.

"It really is part of a grassroots movement from a community development point of view," said Dr. Devine. "In class we have discussed the need to be aware of the programs and services available in the community as social workers engage in the community. It is also important to be connected with the communities in which the students will be working. This field trip provided the opportunity for students to become aware of the processes involved in the food sharing network program in this province."

"It's interesting to see first-hand what different organizations are doing," said student Terri-lynn Payne.

Two groups of approximately 20 students each spent an hour at the warehouse, learning about the program from its executive director, Eg Walters, and volunteering.

After only an hour, they found they had packed up nine large metal crates full of food for distribution throughout the province.

"We welcome students to come any time and see for themselves the magnitude, the volume of products that's being shipped throughout Newfoundland and Labrador," said Mr. Walters. "We would also certainly like to reinforce as they go through their careers as social workers that they should never hesitate to call the food bank to help a client."

The Community Food Sharing Association collects bulk donations of food, and sorts and boxes it for distribution to 58 food banks across the province.

According to Mr. Walters, Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest food bank usage per capita, with the "hunger count" (the official monitoring of food bank usage) as of March 2012 being 27,000 individuals on a monthly basis. Nearly 40 per cent of people fed through Newfoundland and Labrador food banks are children under the age of 18.

"Although we saw a 5.6 per cent decrease over last year, which is great," said Mr. Walters, "One person needing to visit the food bank is too many."

The students say that taking part in an initiative such as this demonstrates just what can be accomplished in a short period of time – you don't have to volunteer for hours on end. Even a small amount of time can make a difference.

"If everyone gave just an hour of their time per week, it would be interesting to see how many boxes could be filled at the Community Food Sharing Association," said student Jordan Moyles.