BASS: Here’s hoping a little bit of Joe has rubbed off on us all
It isn’t easy for some people to ask for help.
And, when that request involves going to the Kamloops Food Bank, well, for some folks it could be almost impossible.
Until they met Joe Shields, a man who quite simply embodied the intangible that is the soul of the agency.
To call Joe a volunteer is to underestimate badly just what Joe accomplished during those years before his health failed him and he had to leave the agency he had loved.
Joe died last week — but the sense of acceptance he embraced and fostered at the Wilson Street facility remains one of his greatest legacies.
He was a man who was always smiling, food bank executive director Bernadette Siracky said as we talked about the man we both knew and at whom we marvelled.
He made everybody feel important, as if they weren’t going to a social agency seeking a handout — or a hand up — but, rather, heading over to see a friend and share some coffee.
People weren’t failures, family providers who couldn’t, able-bodied workers who wouldn’t find jobs or any of the other stereotypes these people in need might apply to themselves.
They were just people.
Often, Joe could be found in the house across the road, at one time part of the food-bank operations before it refocused back on its primary function — feeding the hungry.
But, at the time, it was a place to sit a spell, let the kids play, share recipes or gossip and talk with Joe.
He was a father figure, a shoulder to lean on, a man who would be as inclined to joke with a little one as he was to listen — without judgment — to that child’s mom tell her story.
The best way to describe Joe, Siracky said, was that he was someone who loved the food bank because it gave him something in his life, but who gave back more to it than he received.
That’s quite a feat because the retired bus driver was always busy there, from serving on the board to helping make hampers to playing Santa at Christmas to simply pitching in wherever there was work to be done.
The food bank does that, Siracky said — it “brings out the beautiful in people.”
It brings together people who might otherwise never cross paths and envelopes them in the kind of friendship and acceptance Joe had.
My son was one of those people who, other than keeping mom happy by helping out at the semi-annual food drives, might never have gone to the food bank.
However, thanks to a temporary job there through the Christmas season, he was ready to go every morning before I was even thinking about grabbing the car keys and coat and warming up the car.
I’d drop him off and he’d talk with some of the clients already there, waiting for the trailer to open for them to go in and collect their hampers.
He’d find Wes Graham, the warehouse manager, and pitch in to help unload trucks, carry boxes of donated food into the storerooms, make sure whenever there was work that needed to be done, he’d be on it.
It was a good schoolroom for a recent high-school graduate, one that kept him busy, gave him some pretty good warehouse-management skills, but also allowed him to experience another side of this community we all call home.
I found myself in the area a couple of times, on my way to assignments, and would just casually drive by to catch a glimpse of him at work.
Yes, I’m sure if he knew he’d be mortified but, hey, that’s what some of us moms do, right?
At the time, I didn’t think of it, but now, with the knowledge one of the key bricks that made the foundation of the food bank has left us, I wonder if some of Joe’s inherent, simple goodness might still have been floating around, landing on people as they worked together to help others.
That kind of goodness simply endures.