A Volunteer’s Story from the Southridge Jam Co. Kitchen

On jam, hope and friendship.

Name: Erma
Position at Southridge Jam Co.: Volunteer jam-maker on the #SpreadingHope team

There is a beautiful synergy being cooked up, along with the jam, in The Southridge Jam Company kitchen. Friendships are being created and hope is spreading as our hardworking team is joining together to make delicious jams and jellies. While our volunteers are bringing friendship and support to our participants as they develop job skills to help them generate stability and positive momentum in their transition out of homelessness, one volunteer, Erma, shares how she has been impacted by the relationships she has built, and the skills she has learned at Southridge Jam Co. Read on to find out how this experience has changed her life:

Tell us a little bit about why you wanted to become a volunteer at Southridge Jam Co.?

When I first heard about this jam venture, I thought–I would love to be involved in that! I’d worked in a kitchen previously and really enjoyed it. I was interested in the uniqueness of this program and what they were hoping to accomplish with it. I was the only volunteer who hadn’t helped at the Southridge Shelter before, so I didn’t know any of the volunteers or participants…but this has been an incredibly rewarding experience and I have made many new friends.

Had you ever made jam before volunteering at The Southridge Jam Company?

Well, I grew up on a fruit farm, so I have been exposed to fresh fruit and jam-making my whole life. But this is nothing like making jam at home! This has been a whole new adventure as I have relearned how to make jam at The Southridge Jam Co. kitchen. At home, you follow one recipe, but here, every batch has to match the next, so there is an amazing amount of precision involved in the measurement. Each batch of jam is different, you see. Depending on the weather or what kind of fruit you have, you have to adjust things and analyze it all. So all of us, volunteers included, have learned a lot throughout these weeks!

And how has it been working alongside this team during such a learning experience?

It has been a wonderful learning experience for me and everyone involved. It’s been exciting for me to see the participants gain confidence and increase their skill levels, but at the same time, I’ve learned as much as they have! We’ve been teaming up together and working together in the kitchen. As we’ve all been learning about jam-making, we’ve also been discovering our individual strengths as a team… It has been all of us, working together.

In all of the team work, and time together, what has been your favourite memory at The Southridge Jam Company?

When they brought in a corporate sponsor group to receive jam and leadership training from our team. That was amazing–a group of managers was brought in, and a lot of them didn’t know how to make jam. So, they divided our Southridge group up into pairs, and assigned us each a different task involved in the jam production process. The managers had to rotate through the stations and learn from our team about making jam. The best part was seeing our program participants teach the managers about the skills they had been learning–they weren’t intimidated and they showed the corporate group what we do and why we do it this way. For me, that was the highlight, watching our cohort take on this leadership role with such confidence.

The tagline of The Southridge Jam Company is “spreading hope.” How have you seen hope spreading throughout jam production?

I see hope spreading in the new friends I have made. The friendship and the support is the most important thing.

The friendship spreads hope just as much as the jam does.

 If you can build a relationship with someone and really care about their life, you gain understanding.  When we were working in that kitchen, we were working together as equals, and as friends. 

And with friendship being the crucial foundation for spreading hope, what would you tell someone who is wanting to buy a jar of jam from Southridge Jam Co.? What are our customers purchasing?

…A lot of love and passion has gone into that jam. We’ve picked the berries together, we’ve hulled the fruit together, crushed them together…and the friendships we build working together goes into that jar of jam. It’s a chance at a better life, of friendship, and purpose and hope.

So, you’re buying good tasting jam, and you’re supporting something that has the potential to change someone’s life. You’re buying the potential to change someone’s life.

We hear that on the graduation day of our first cohort, you did something special for each of them to commemorate their achievements. Can you tell us a little about this and where this idea came from?

Well, over the weeks you get to know each of the participants very well–who they are and their personalities and their preferences… Our chef, Cam, had brought in a big platter of different varieties of jam one day so that we could analyze each type, for its taste and thickness, all those things. As we went around taste-testing the jams, and analyzed and commented on our favourites, I noticed each of them had favourite flavours and styles of jams. So when I got home, I found in my selection of home-made jams, ones that would suit each of their tastes! A nice thick Peach jam for Kevin, a low sugar blackberry jam for Kathleen, and a thinner strawberry jam for Thomas. I gave it to them on their graduation day.

Graduation day was huge for these three, as they received their certificates of completion and each said a few words about what that certificate meant to them. So I don’t think of the jams as presents, but as acknowledging what I had learned about them each individually throughout our time together.

What would you want to say to someone who is thinking of volunteering at Southridge Jam Co.?

I would say, roll up your sleeves and dig in–it’s rewarding, and you will come out of it blessed. It’s hard work, but I am enjoying it and would love to continue. Our team leaders are awesome with the group of us, they are very patient and kind while you learn under their teaching!

I would say, go in there wanting to learn, wanting to be helpful and willing to be helped as well.