Going back. Giving back.

A look at volunteering and a bright new era in “purchasing power” at Staples

Foreword – Alessandra Saccal

The modern family has more than enough ‘busy’ going around – soccer practice, music lessons, basic errands, swimming lessons and household chores- to name but a few. Most of us agree it’s too much. In fact, when we speak with families most indicate a deep-rooted yearning for smart ways to contribute to society, to people in need.

That same spirit has been animating Staples Canada for many years. Just last month, Staples announced a partnership with ACCO Brands and Me to We that has uplifted many back-to-school shoppers.

The three organizations – the latter a movement to support Free the Children – launched a line of eco school supplies that will help thousands of students overseas receive the tools and supplies they need to start the new year.

The Me to We line of supplies, available exclusively at Staples locations and online at staples.ca, is made of eco-friendly materials and comes in a variety of bright colors and patterns. Each product purchased gives back to a family or child in need through Free The Children communities in Latin America, Africa or Asia.

People volunteer for a variety of reasons, but always with a sense of community. The idea behind our Me to We partnership is part of that community-based continuum – it’s not just thinking of me but thinking of we, and the world around us.

We’re grateful to Tracy Cassels for her story on how she began volunteering and why she hasn't stopped since…

Tracy's Experience

My first real volunteer experience was with my best friend in Grade 8 when we went to help out at a kids’ Christmas event near City Hall.  We were tasked with bringing food up on platters and bringing the empty platters down and frankly we were getting sick of all the up and down and had started counting the time to leave with (I’m sad to admit) pained expressions on our faces.  We could see how happy the kids were, but they looked like any other kid you saw on the street.  You didn’t see poverty and although we knew they were mostly all low-income, they were as happy as any other child would be at such a place.  We had noticed some of the kids had yellow badges on them and we finally asked one of the supervisors what that was about.  She explained to us that these kids couldn’t be photographed at all because either they were victims of abuse and had to leave with a person still hunting for them or some other situation equally as bad that meant they had to stay anonymous and out of sight.

That is what hit home with us.  Now the glee was put in a whole new light.  These weren’t children whose days were always filled with laughter and happiness; for many, their usual days had been filled with fear and pain for at least a period.  All we did was bring the food up and the trays down, but I looked around at the countless other volunteers and realized that if it weren’t for people taking on these tasks, these children wouldn’t have this day and that would be beyond tragic.

I continued to volunteer for years after not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because I felt that it was one way I could give back.  In those years I didn’t have the money to donate to charities, but I did have time and that is something just as valuable to many organizations.  I don’t know a single person who thinks our society is 100% perfect as it is, but many don’t realize that it is up to them, to quote Gandhi, to “be the change you want to see in the world”.  We need people to realize this.

The Numbers

In Canada, 47% of individuals over 15 volunteered at least once in 2010 (the last year recorded by StatsCan) and logged 2.07 billion hours of volunteer work.  If we think about how much 2 billion hours can achieve, we can see the importance of volunteer work to the functioning of our society.  Although most of the volunteer work is done by a small percentage of the volunteers, every hour counts and if every Canadian who was old enough dedicated just a few hours a year to volunteering, the impact would be enormous.

The BIG picture

Sometimes it’s hard for us to see how we can find the time to volunteer when we live in such an overbooked and time-crunched world; however, volunteering can be a one-day thing a year.  There are lots of special events that happen once which rely upon the kindness of strangers.  For those who worry about the time with family being lost, either consider doing something all of you can do together so your children learn the value of volunteering as well or talk to your kids about the importance of this one bit of time away (which would be less than a day at work) and why you do it.  Whatever it takes, it will be worth it to get out there and volunteer.

If you’re interested in volunteering and don’t know where to start, check out Volunteer Canada. For more information on Me To We, visit www.metowe.com

By Tracy Cassels

July 14, 2014