WHALLEY â€” With a masters in bioethics and a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Feezah Jaffer never imagined her landing spot would be Surrey Food Bank.
After all, it’s an unusual career change for someone who worked in forensics for the RCMP. But for the last four years, she’s been working her way up the ladder at the food bank, now finding herself second in command as director of external relations.
The born-and-raised Surreyite spent five years working in the forensics field, but said her life changed during a year-long trip to Pakistan after her contract was up.
"That’s when it clicked for me that this is what I want to do – helping people overcome things," she said.
There, she worked for a non-profit that had a micro-finance division and provided loans to women.
"There was this one woman, she was 60-something. She was illiterate and she’d just become a widow a couple years before and her only skill was weaving. She got together with 20 other women and they started this weaving company. We gave her a huge loan, and she had two years to pay it back. Within six months she gave it back because her business was so successful.The spirit of that woman was inspiring."
When she returned to Canada, she pondered what to do with the rest of her life."I found the food bank. I lived here all my life and never knew there was one," she said.
"When I saw this job, I connected to it. When I started listening to the clients and hearing their stories, and I worked my way up, it’s just what I love."
For Jaffer, the work is about more than feeding the hungry. She works to educate the bank’s clientele so they can advance their lives – just like she witnessed in the woman from Pakistan.
"We’re not just a food bank anymore, we’re trying to bring in information and community partners so that our clients are enriched by that experience. We’re not just giving you food, we’re giving you tools to not need us anymore," she noted.
Jaffer said she can’t imagine going back to her previous work. Social work is what she’s built for, she said.
"Yes, you get paid for it, yes you get the rewards out of it but at the end of the day it just feels like what you’re supposed to do. For me, this is what I’m supposed to do."
Through her four years with the organization, Jaffer has seen and helped it evolve. She launched a variety of programs – an evening depot, pre-K program, vegetarian hamper and a seniors-only service, to name a few.
Next year, she is planning to introduce a youth program.
Executive director of the food bank, Marilyn Herrmann, recalled looking at Feezah’s resume and thinking, "Why does she want to work here?"
After all, she seemed overqualified for the assistant position she initially applied for.
"But she’s a very valuable asset to the organization," Herrmann said.
"I don’t think any of us had the food bank in our career plan. I remember when I first came into food banking almost 15 years ago now, someone said to me, ‘Why don’t you go get a real job? You’ve got a degree.’ I had come from the corporate world, but I think you become so passionate and so fulfilled by what you do."
Meanwhile, Surrey Food Bank isn’t just expanding its programs, it’s changing in other ways.
The organization has long been searching for a larger and more suitable location. While it thought it had found one – and even put an offer in on a building – it didn’t work out.
To make it work in their current Whalley facility, the group embarked upon renovations at the end of September to spiff things up a bit. New carpets have gone in and new paint has been slapped on the walls.
And for the first time ever, the food bank now has a 3,000-square foot off-site warehouse to supplement its 8,000-square-foot headquarters, so as to allow more of their services to be provided indoors.