Guest Post: Why I’m volunteering at HoHoTO

Omar Khafagy originally published the post below on his Facebook page about when he volunteered at a foodbank as a teenager. He gave us permission to reprint his post here.

When I was in high school, I volunteered at a food bank. I remember the warehouse as enormous and cold. I was 15, and it was winter. The sun was so high in the sky that its heatless presence was taunting. I remember standing outside, leaning over the handle of a dolly and panting plumes of vapour, wishing that the sun would dip down for a bit.

At the time, I was a chubby 15-year-old. I had little to no muscle at all, and the entire experience was the most physically gruelling I’d ever known.

I pushed and pulled trolleys of boxes loaded with cans of beans; running from one end of the warehouse to the other whenever I was required, and generally struggled to keep up with the adults who were there. I had to keep up with them, you see, because I was humbled by them. They were not there because they were volunteers.

They were there as employees and benefactors of the very food they helped collect and sort. These were not the most educated folks. They weren’t well-read, and many weren’t particularly well-watched either. TV wasn’t a huge part of their lives. Survival was.

One man in particular stands out in my memory. He was a tall man with oily fingernails, patchy stubble, a handful of teeth and a thick mess of hair that stuck out of an old red cap he wore backward.

He told dirty jokes. Yet each time he swore, he would stumble over himself apologizing for his language. Then, as though in defence of himself, he would say, “But you’re practically grown up. I mean, you’re what, 15? 16? Pretty sure you’ve heard of a p—- before. If ya haven’t, ya definitely think about ’em.”

Cold as it was, my face and ears were kept warm.

The man wanted to include me and make me feel welcome. The entire staff did, displaying patience when I struggled to complete some simple physical task, and displaying kindness by sharing with me what little food they had. I couldn’t even turn them down. They insisted over and over again.

They knew I was a volunteer, knew that I was a private school student, and yet showed more kindness to me than many of the wealthiest people I have ever known.

I have long harboured a desire to participate again in some fundraising effort to help feed the hungry. Every year I think about it, and each year I do nothing. This year promised to be much of the same, except that this time something happened.

I opened an email I would have ordinarily thrown away.

In that email was an ad for HoHoTO 2013, a fundraising event in support of The Daily Bread Food Bank. The last time I stumbled accidentally onto something I’d have normally ignored, I wound up a student at Bitmaker Labs alongside some of the most gifted and inspirational people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Good things happen when I don’t think too hard before I act.

So I didn’t overthink this one. I emailed Gina, the woman in charge of HoHoTO’s volunteers, and within 24 hours got myself a ticket for the event and a 2 hour slot between 9 and 11pm on Thursday December 19th.

If you’re reading this, and you’re anywhere near Toronto… I want to see you there. It’s going to be a great event with drinks, food, and great people from the startup, tech, social media and design community.

But more importantly, it’s going to help some of the city’s hungriest feel a little fuller, a little warmer, this holiday season.

Nearly 800,000 people relied on a food bank in 2012. That’s enough people to pack the Air Canada Centre forty times over. A third of those people were children. For those doing the math, that’s around 13 ACCs filled with kids.

100% of the proceeds go directly to feeding these folks, and you get to have a great time while doing it.

So if you can make it, great! If you can’t, but want to donate anyway, click below and purchase a ticket for early-bird admission. And if you’re not going to be in town or simply can’t afford to, please share this with whoever you can.

With your help we can make Toronto a little less hungry this holiday season.

You can join Omar and volunteer at this year’s HoHoTO. Email Gina for more details. 

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Why I’m volunteering at HoHoTO”

  1. I’m always interested in reading about traditions such as this in other countries. Thank you Katie.

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