Image of a group f volunteers standing in front of fruit

Photography courtesy of Not Far From the Tree

4 corporate volunteering opportunities in Toronto and the GTA

Reap the benefits of giving back to the community by volunteering with a group of your co-workers on a team-building excursion

Feeling fulfilled in her job has always been important to Robin Stevenson, the Toronto-based senior manager of marketing and communications at Equifax Canada. But fulfillment doesn’t just come from her usual 9-to-5 duties. She makes sure to take advantage of volunteer opportunities at work, too: from serving on the company’s philanthropy committee and coordinating the annual toy drive to helping at the food drive, offering pro bono marketing consultancy to non-profits and participating in team corporate volunteering off-site.
“When I applied for this job, I was fairly candid during my first interview,” says Stevenson. “I asked, ‘In what ways does this company give back to the community?’ It has always been important to me to work for an organization that gives back.”

And the positive effects of giving back at work don’t stop at personal satisfaction. Companies also benefit from encouraging their employees to pursue charitable work. For example, some HR experts believe that employers who support corporate volunteering have better staff retention rates, because of the bonds that develop between co-workers.

“The immediate benefit to me is that I feel better going into work every day,” says Stevenson. “And because our corporate volunteering is cross-functional, I get to cultivate connections with colleagues from other parts of the business [who] I wouldn’t normally meet.” As an added bonus, she adds, the co-workers she’s connecting with are like-minded individuals who also have a passion for giving back. “If 10 of us show up at a food bank in our grubby clothes and spend a day bagging groceries together up against a tight deadline, we’ll be laughing, working fast, and sharing stories. In those moments, we develop deeper connections which feed our relationships back at the office.”

Are you and your co-workers ready to give back and build some team spirit? Great! There’s a range of interesting and fun corporate group volunteering opportunities to try across Toronto and the GTA. Here are four ideas to get you started.

Image of a volunteer picking fruit from a tree

1. Not Far from the Tree

Around 1.5 million pounds of fruit grow in the city each year, and much of it goes to waste — yet one in eight households are food insecure. This grassroots organization provides a valuable service across Toronto: They pick fruit from backyard trees and urban spaces, sharing the spoils with volunteers, the fruit tree owners and 35 community organizations.

“Picking fruit is a unique and fun team-building activity,” says project director Megan Anevich. “Where else in Toronto do you have the chance to try your hand at picking poles; to climb trees; or to pick fruit like apples, pears and grapes? It’s a great opportunity to get outside and work together.”

Corporate sponsors who donate a minimum of $5,000 can sign up for a two-hour team pick. A maximum of six volunteers can join a residential pick, and up to 20 can harvest from the trees at Spadina Museum. Larger donations give access to extra perks, like cider-pressing or preserve-making workshops.

Image of a group of volunteers folding bags

2. WoodGreen Community Services

At this United Way–supported anchor agency, corporate volunteer groups of any size can have a huge impact at the local level by making care packages for people living in poverty. These could be backpacks stuffed with supplies for schoolkids, hygiene kits for people accessing shelters or winter-warmth kits for seniors or people experiencing homelessness, packed with cozy items like scarves, hats, blankets or mugs with tea. Making these is a meaningful way to come together at a work retreat or during the holiday season.

“Care packages are greatly appreciated throughout the year, but we recommend companies call first to find out what our needs are at any given time, so their donation can have the biggest impact,” says Kathy Koch, director of individual, corporate and foundation giving at WoodGreen. For a customized corporate volunteering experience, Koch recommends getting in touch directly so your team’s objectives, experience and skills can be matched with the best opportunity. “We also encourage organizers to get a sense of any special skills team members are bringing to the table, and that could include secret talents that may not normally be showcased in the workplace,” says Koch. Some fun examples from past groups include making balloon animals, cooking gourmet food and playing the piano.

One of the highlights for volunteers, says Koch, is getting to see their co-workers in a new setting. “They delight in the surprise of someone’s humour, compassion or hidden talents, which they may not see every day in the workplace.”

Image of two volunteers standing at a table cutting

3. The Furniture Bank

Newcomers and families in need can furnish their homes at no cost with the help of volunteers at the Furniture Bank, a United Way–supported registered charity.

Corporate groups have a few different options for lending a hand:

• Groups of four to eight people can book a time slot for the Corporate Volunteer Experience to help clients select furniture, as well as repair, paint and reupholster donated furniture. The activity takes four hours and requires a $500 donation per group.
• At a Build-a-Thon, corporate groups from 10 to 100 are split into teams and, during a timed event, compete to build flat-packed furniture. The friendly contest takes two to three hours and costs $150 per person.
• In the House-to-Home package, corporate groups of up to 10 people work with a volunteer interior designer. Together they personalize an entire home for a family who’s transitioning from homelessness or displacement by using donated furniture and housewares selected from the non-profit’s collection. The activity takes six hours and costs from $3,000 per team.

Image of a volunteer on a truck handing out green onion

4. Second Harvest

You’ve undoubtedly seen this organization’s trucks fanning out all over Toronto and the GTA, recovering surplus food that would otherwise go to waste. Later, they redistribute it to community groups at places such as homeless shelters, subsidized daycares and drop-in centres.

Second Harvest offers a few different corporate volunteering options:

• Teams from charitable partners that donate a minimum of $500 (or $1,000 in-kind) can sign up for a Food Sort in the giant Second Harvest warehouse. Up to 10 people per shift can participate.
• A group of up to five can jump on a truck for the day and help drop off food around the city.
• During the summer, corporate teams of up to 10 volunteers can help out in the kitchen, making nutritious lunches that will be distributed to GTA kids who normally have subsidized lunches during the school year.

“When we volunteered for Second Harvest a couple years ago, we chose to help out at the North York branch close to work,” says Stevenson. “There’s an undeniable joy in doing something for your immediate community.”

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