Sharon Czuba is wired for working with people.
For 22 years, Czuba worked as a waitress and bartender at the Green Brier Inn on Main Street, which allowed her to interact with a wide range of customers.
"The greatest thing you can do is be a waitress in a bar or wherever there’s a lot of people to meet," says Czuba, 61.
While rheumatoid arthritis forced Czuba into early retirement eight years ago, she is putting her passion for meeting and serving new people to good use as a volunteer at NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre, a project of NorWest Co-op Community Health.
'I love meeting (new) people and I like listening to everybody's story they have to tell'
The food centre, located on Tyndall Avenue, includes a variety of components, including a meal program, cooking classes, a gardening program and food-advocacy activities.
Czuba volunteers at least twice a week as a chef assistant, working to prepare healthy meals for the community.
She also assists with some of the centre’s programming, including the seniors drop-in on Monday mornings.
"I love meeting (new) people, and I like listening to everybody’s story they have to tell," Czuba says, adding she once ran into an old high school acquaintance at the centre. "That was pretty nice."
Volunteering at the centre helps Czuba keep busy.
Immediately after retiring eight years ago, she began helping her brother look after their parents.
Their father died in 2010, and their mother died three years later, leaving Czuba with a void in her life.
"There was absolutely nothing to do," she says. "I was getting bored and depressed about it, (and) then I found this place. It’s great… I love helping people."
Czuba lives right next to the centre and would often poke her head in when the centre was being built.
She began volunteering as soon as it opened its doors in March 2015 and since then has logged the most hours of any volunteer assisting with the centre’s programming.
Czuba is one of more than 50 volunteers who help out at the centre, which serves about 500 people each week, ranging from newborns to seniors over the age of 100.
Staff describe Czuba as a leader and inspiration who has helped create a welcoming atmosphere in the centre.
"Sharon’s such a vibrant person," says Kristina McMillan, NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre director. "She’s worked with the public her whole life, so she’s excellent with the community… To top it off, she’s awesome in the kitchen."
Czuba says helping others learn about nutrition has impacted her life for the better.
"My eating habits are better (and) more healthy," she says.
She describes the centre as a second home, and is more than happy to volunteer.
"It gives me something to look forward to when I get up in the mornings," she says. "It gives me satisfaction."
The NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre is currently looking for more volunteers to help with a wide range of programming. Anyone interested is invited to apply online at norwestcoop.ca.
If you know a special volunteer, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- By Aaron Epp