Lighthouse Soup Kitchen and Shelter volunteer Verva Smith has been working tirelessly to make a difference for people experiencing homelessness in Orillia for the past seven years.
Linda Goodall, the executive director of the Lighthouse, says Smith has been a key contributor to the success of the Lighthouse over the years, working as the lead kitchen volunteer.
“Verva seems to go above and beyond with volunteering daily. She knows the value of a meal to our participants, and she works diligently with our food services manager, Stu, in order to prepare meals,” Goodall explained.
“In the last year we prepared and organized over 46,000 meals and Verva has been a staple in that.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith has put in extra time and effort to helping prepare meals for those less fortunate in the community.
“Through COVID we’ve had to limit our number of volunteers and some of them haven’t been able to come in. We have a small crew of committed volunteers and Verva is one of them. She is there five days a week helping to prepare the meals,” Goodall explained.
“We are so thankful and grateful that she has spent so much time with us, it’s really made a difference.”
The Lighthouse is currently sheltering 48 people and serves 63 bagged lunches four days a week, which are prepared by Smith and other volunteers.
“It’s volunteers like Verva that keep that going. People see the events, the fundraising, but it’s the people behind the scenes who keep individuals sheltered, provided with meals, and safe,” Goodall said.
Before volunteering her time at the Lighthouse, Smith worked many jobs. She raised three children, babysat, worked in a restaurant, cut wood, and mowed lawns, just to name a few.
When the Lake Dalrymple native retired from the workforce, she decided to look into volunteering as a way to keep busy.
“I didn’t have a job, and I had to do something. I couldn’t just sit around, I would go stir-crazy,” Smith said.
At the Lighthouse, Smith contributes by making meals and looking after the other volunteers. The sometimes-demanding work is something that makes Smith feel proud.
“I know I’m helping people, but I do it because it makes me feel good to know that there is something I can do to help because I’m not a young woman anymore,” said the 65-year-old.
“It is so much fun. Working with the people who work and volunteer here is like working with your family, we classify ourselves as a big family.”
Although the work is rewarding, Smith says sometimes it’s difficult seeing the struggles of somebody trying to live with little to no resources or support.
“It’s hard, you feel sorry for the people because you know these people are living out on the street and there is nothing I can do but hand them some food, make sure they have boots, a coat, and everything they need for clothing,” Smith said.
“There are too many people out there living on the streets, it’s hard to see that.”
Smith says the work of a volunteer at the Lighthouse is often appreciated, but not always.
“Some of the people will come back and thank you for the meal you gave them and tell you how much they appreciate it. Others just walk away, but you can’t think about that,” she said.
“You have to think about and consider things like mental illness and what people are going through. I’ve gotten to know all of the clients over the years, and I know what they are going through and how they are feeling, which makes it easier, but you still feel sorry for them.”
Smith says the importance of volunteering is vital to protecting the most vulnerable population in Orillia.
“Without the volunteers, we’d be lost down here,” she said.
Smith hopes that when the new shelter and community hub opens on Queen Street, more volunteers will come forward to help.
“If you are thinking about volunteering you should do it. You will never find anything else on earth that will give you the satisfaction of working in a place like this,” Smith said.
“Helping people is the greatest feeling on earth.”
Smith plans on volunteering for years to come; she has no current plans to retire.
“I’ll do it until I can’t do it, I’m going to keep on trucking,” she said.
Outside of her time spent at the Lighthouse, Smith is also a mother to three children, and a grandmother to four grandchildren.
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