Karen, Winnipeg

Karen Nobiss’ laundry gig at NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre started simply enough. 
“I noticed that staff didn’t have time to deal with washing all the tablecloths and aprons and other stuff every day, so I volunteered to do it,” the 66-year-old Winnipegger explains.
 
Soon she was going to the centre—which is conveniently connected to her seniors’ residence—every morning. That was three and a half years ago. “I turn on the laundry and put the coffee on, so when staff get there it’s ready. Then I help around the centre doing whatever needs doing. I call it ‘getting my exercise.’”

Karen has to be a bit cautious because of her osteoarthritis, but she’s also glad to pull weeds in the garden or get a call to help out in the large commercial kitchen if they’re short on volunteers for Thursday night suppers. The working space, with its 17-foot island, looks out into the bright, open dining area with a view toward the centre’s lush communal garden and community bake oven. “Sometimes it can get a little loud in there during meals, but the centre feels like home to me,” she explains. 

“I would go stir crazy if I had to be stuck in my little suite 24-7,” she says. “I wish I’d known how much I like volunteering 30 years ago! It brings something out in a person. A side of you that you don’t think you have.”
 
Like many other seniors, Karen especially likes talking to the youth who participate in NorWest programs. “We have a snack and coffee, share stories, laugh and joke. The younger people ask me about my life and I tell them how the city has changed. They’re kind of in awe when I say there used to be trolleys instead of buses on the roads and lots of theatres on Main Street.”

Knowing how much she’s benefited from spending time at the Community Food Centre, Karen is eager for other seniors to participate in its programs. Staff are currently working on a new initiative that will include group outings to places like a farm outside the city. But true to form, Karen also has some (deceptively simple!) ideas of her own. 

“I was remembering recently how I used to do embroidery when I was younger. I’m thinking I’ll buy a kit and bring it with me when I go to the centre. We can have a coffee and a snack. Maybe some of the other seniors at the centre will want to join me.”