Fulton’s Story | Volunteering is great, but I want to do more!
For thirty years, Fulton Tom was an economics professor at Langara College. “When covid hit, all our classes went online and I didn’t enjoy teaching online, it wasn’t very personal, you didn’t get to see the student’s faces, and you just didn’t know if they were understanding the lesson at all.” When the pandemic struck, moving classes to a virtual format, Fulton thought back to his life goal of retirement at age 55. “It would be great around 55 if I didn’t like what I was doing I could just stop doing it and so covid and the fact that all my teaching was online during covid, sort of convinced me I was done with teaching and I wanted to try some different things.” As Fulton transitioned into his retirement, enjoying all of his extra downtime, came the thought of what next?
After volunteering with Aunt Leah’s, Fulton’s dedication to the organization transitioned him to an official staff role, as Aunt Leah’s Food Security Specialist. Recognizing ways to improve efficiency and cut costs as a volunteer, Fulton wanted to give more of his time to Aunt Leah’s Place, including using his background in teaching to provide essential life skills to participants. Fulton loves to cook and loves to teach, so naturally he wanted to teach participants how to cook their own meals at home. “On Aunt Leah’s website, it talked about helping the participants learn basic cooking skills, and basic food preparation skills, so coming from a teaching background I was still really interested in teaching. I wasn’t that keen on teaching economics anymore, but cooking was something I thought I could teach to participants.”
Every volunteer has something that connects them to the organization they support, and with Fulton, that connection goes almost as far back as the organization itself. “I had a long-ago connection with Aunt Leah’s, over 30 years ago I used to make ornaments and jewelry and tried to sell them. One of the first places I was selling them through, was Leah’s retail store in the Marpole area near marine drive. So, when it came to looking for a non-profit to volunteer for, I was looking locally, I live in New Westminster, and Aunt Leah’s was based in New Westminster. I had that connection long ago and Aunt Leah’s is really highly rated on Charity Intelligence, so those were some of the main reasons why I chose to volunteer with Aunt Leah’s.”
Fulton also acknowledges his own home life as part of the reason he decided to give back and volunteer with Aunt Leah’s. “I have an adult son that lives at home and I recognize the challenges that youth face today with high housing costs and low employment income and how they need support well into their adult years. It got me thinking, well if I’m supporting my adult son, what about youth that don’t have family support? I felt that given what I saw my son going through it was important to give back to the community and see how I could help others.”
“I have to say, the most heartwarming recognition that I get is from the participants when they come to get the meals and they tell me how much they appreciate getting a home-cooked meal. That’s really the best part of being a volunteer. Knowing that I’m doing something in the community that has value to someone is what makes it fulfilling.”
—Fulton Tom, Aunt Leah’s Food Security Specialist
On the transition from a volunteer position to a staff role, Fulton says, “I see becoming a staff member, sort of extending my role as a volunteer and trying to make what we do here at Aunt Leah’s more efficient, both cost-efficient and more effective for the participants. One of my tasks is to try to increase the amount of food donations we get. So, it’s also a learning experience for me. Having volunteered, I thought there were some things that would really improve things for the participants and also, budget-wise for Aunt Leah’s. So, I thought I did retire, and I have a lot of time on my hands so that all sort of fell together and that’s the reason why I decided to apply for the role here. One of the things I’ve been trying to do is to give back some of the money, so I just signed up to be a monthly donor for Aunt Leah’s too.”
In May of 2022, Fulton began volunteering at Aunt Leah’s Place, supporting the organization with our food security program. He prepared meals for Aunt Leah’s participants on a weekly basis and organized grocery hampers for youth to bring home. “As a volunteer, I would come every Wednesday and my main role was to prepare and cook the Wednesday meal for participants. I would also be here when the food donation came in, so if I had time, I would help sort through that. Sometimes something comes in that perhaps doesn’t look good enough to go into a hamper, but I might be able to incorporate it into our meal. I equate it to the cooking competition chopped, where you get this mystery box and then you have to figure out what to make with it.”
When asked what he would say to people who are considering volunteering, Fulton says, “I think they should take that step. Another benefit of volunteering, is you get to meet other people, like Esther, we were acquaintances before but we really didn’t know each other very well, but by volunteering together we have gotten to know each other much more and we have become really good friends.”
On whether or not he would recommend volunteering with Aunt Leah’s, Fulton says, “I would! Aunt Leah’s work is really meaningful to the participants that it helps. Talking with people at the appreciation dinner last night, they all talked about how they enjoyed their volunteer work, and how they really valued being part of Aunt Leah’s, noting that Aunt Leah’s is a top-rated charity, which I think should be encouraging for people. Letting people know that they have wonderful services for our participants and really make a difference in their lives. So those are things that people should keep in mind when they’re looking for volunteer opportunities.”
We are incredibly thankful for our volunteers, and without support from volunteers, Aunt Leah’s certainly would not be the organization we are today. A special thank you goes out to Fulton, we are so excited to see you continue to make a difference in the lives of our participants.