Saroj Saher has volunteered with Bissell for an astounding 30 years and has seen Bissell grow substantially in that time. Over the course of a phone conversation, Saroj told me about her earliest days at Bissell and the many roles she has filled as a volunteer.
In the early 1990s, she said, “Bissell Centre was very simple” with fewer services and programs than we have currently. Shortly after starting her volunteer tenure with Bissell, Saroj met with Bissell’s CEO, who raised the idea of hosting a dinner around the Christmas holidays. The CEO said that people typically donate much more food around Christmas which would build up and couldn’t be distributed quickly.
So, Saroj quickly signed on to spearhead what would become a regular Bissell tradition, the New Year’s Day Dinner. It turned out that the dinner required more work and a much bigger kitchen than anticipated. Over the years Saroj has forged many contacts with enthusiastic organizations who want to contribute their time and skill to preparing the dinner, ranging from large restaurants to NAIT’s commercial kitchens. Planning an event as large as the New Year’s Day Dinner takes a lot of time for staff and volunteers alike, but by all accounts, Saroj is far from done giving her time and extensive expertise to the cause.
The New Year’s Day Dinner has come a long way since it started, providing over 1200 meals in its most recent iteration. However, for Saroj, giving back goes beyond big events like the dinner. As she says, “If you do a kind gesture, it’s contagious. You can give 1 dollar, a quarter, someone will see you giving, and it continues.” However large or small the gesture, Saroj firmly believes that when one person gives, others are motivated to do the same.
Volunteer work is a matter of both duty and passion for Saroj, “I believe that I am better off financially…why I can’t I help? I have more privileges, so why can’t I share?” Saroj’s passion for the work we do at Bissell is evident right away when you talk to her. I asked what the best part of volunteering with Bissell has been and immediately Saroj replied “oh, I love it, I just feel so happy...there is a lot of connection there. I felt connected to [participants].”
That sense of connection goes both ways as Saroj shared stories of participants who will come running up to her at events to catch up and the many stories she has learned over the years. It’s evident from talking to Saroj that she cares deeply about people and has an incredible drive to serve.
If there’s one thing Saroj wished people knew about Bissell it is simply that “Bissell Centre is there to help.” Her passion for Bissell Centre’s work comes from the variety of services and programs on offer and the way that staff and volunteers engage with participants, “a smile can make a lot of difference.”
Finally, what would Saroj tell someone who is thinking about volunteering with Bissell? “I would say go ahead, go, go! Don’t be scared. Try once, at least once. That experience, you will never forget.” As we end our call, Saroj reiterates her gratitude for the many people who have helped her at Bissell and tells me that whatever we need, she is there to help. After 30 years of volunteering with Bissell, Saroj seems more motivated than ever. I have no doubt that the next time we host New Year’s Day Dinner, Saroj will once again be in the thick of things, more than likely leading the way.
Interview by Sam Goertz, Volunteer Services Team