Volunteering - my Square Food journey

Square Food's first volunteer, Gretchen Doering talks about what it means to volunteer at Square Food Foundation and sheds some light on her own experience.  Having been an onlooker, a volunteer, a teacher, and now operations assistant, I can say with great certainty-we couldn’t do it without them. Some recent feedback from Enthusiast Masterclasses says it all “Superb! Thought the atmosphere was nice and relaxed with the tuition being really easy to follow—help was always available.” “Informal, yet structured.” “I learned a lot but felt comfortable and not under pressure.”

It is the extra pairs of hands that make this lovely atmosphere possible—to do the washing up during a masterclass, fetching the spare colander, getting the fish out of the fridge or the tarts out of the oven means the students and teacher can remain around the table. Having volunteers fill that role also means that the surplus from those courses can go to fund our community cookery courses. And by giving a volunteer a meaningful role, we engage and educate yet another person, building perhaps the best ambassadors for the cookery school.

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I was having an orientation meeting with a new volunteer recently and she said she didn’t expect to be able to step right into one of the really good volunteer roles, she would understand if she had to work her way up.  I believe that all our volunteer roles are good ones—everyone gets to experience a bit of that magic that comes from a Square Food Foundation cookery class. Also, I must say that coming from the small, confined, circular sink of my former flat, I find the two expansive sink basins and drain board overlooking the garden outside a luxury—especially as both of the taps now work and have hot water! There’s something very satisfying about taking off my watch to immerse my arms in hot sudsy water, tackling a pile of dishes and knowing there is delicious, cooked-from-scratch food waiting to be tried.

And it’s not just washing up! If you want to spend one Sunday a month helping children with Downs Syndrome knead dough or stir fry vegetables, we’ve got a place at the table for you. If you want to venture to schools around Bristol to assist with a hands-on workshop or inspiring assembly, let us know. We used to have a volunteer who loved coming in to fold our aprons and iron our tea towels—no joke, and the role is still available! We have volunteers who assist with events and marketing, photographers and graphic design, all lending a hand to make connections, create choice, and change lives.

There is no better way to meet new people and engage in new project then to volunteer. You show up some place new, you have a task at hand to get on with, you’re usually learning something, and working with others usually means having a good time. When I asked Lucy nearly a year ago, why didn’t Square Food Foundation have more volunteers? Because having volunteers takes time—recruitment time, management time, an upfront cost of time that couldn’t be afforded even if there was time savings in the end. Knowing that volunteers can be your best ambassadors, that's when I volunteered to be volunteer coordinator.

Why volunteer? It is tactile, engaging, educational, and it is challenging (anticipating Barny’s next request), and it has the added bonus of tasting some delicious food. Most of our roles don’t ask for a fixed ongoing time commitment, though sometimes those exist, but you should know that you are so appreciated and essential on the days you do commit.

Why at Square Food?

There is a place for everyone here. Barny Haughton was the first person who I ever met from Bristol. He was teaching a class called Culinary Techniques as a visiting professor at the University of Gastronomic Science, and he told his story, of building a cookery school that taught everyone to cook, from the working professionals, the school children, and the disadvantaged—using ingredients from the field to the fork. Half the class was ready to come volunteer on the spot.

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When I moved to Bristol and first caught up with Barny, he invited me to come along the very next day to assist with a class as One25, where I saw what I already knew firsthand: teaching people in all walks of life that no matter who or where you are, cooking from scratch can change your life.  I continued assisting with that class each month in addition to a few Enthusiast Masterclasses, Bristol Area Down Syndrome Support group, and schools groups on and off site. Whether it was assisting off site with a homemade pasta and pesto class with a scouts troop, or pasty lessons in a school hall to over 100 children throughout the day, I saw children engaging with food in a way they perhaps had not before; we were inspiring new cooks and new connections.

Join the conversation. Make connections. Create choice.

Cooking can change your life