We are always interested in hearing more about the individuals in food banking across Canada! This month, our spotlight is on Mark LeBlanc from Vestiaire Saint-Joseph in Shediac, NB.
What is your role in food banking?
The title “Executive Director of Vestiaire St-Joseph” is a role that is hard to define as my role is completely varied. I’ve worked in every area here from frontline administration to shipping and receiving, as well as a cashier at our retail store. Sometimes I do landscaping in our greenhouse if needed.
If I could sum it up, I would say that my role is to focus people from all walks of life whether it be our staff and volunteers, our community and supporters to work towards a common goal. When it comes to our clients, my role is to offer help, hope, education and access to services they may not otherwise have accepted. It certainly helps to be an executive director that has been a food bank user and has experienced homelessness in the past.
Describe a typical day in one word.
What was your inspiration to get involved in food banking?
I don’t think I was inspired to get involved in food banking. It sort of just happened this way and maybe out of chance but looking back, it was not accidental, I’m sure. I had grown up under abuse and when I was old enough to leave my home in Nova Scotia, I did so. Being in my early twenties and feeling no fear, even if penniless and without a place to live, I was confident things would work out. Unfortunately, my hopes were dashed when I realized that being hungry, homeless and without direction, I’d surely become a statistic. After getting past my pride and at the point of zero energy, I went to a food bank.
I realized then in the comfort of strangers, that I just knew these people cared. While I was waiting for my food hamper, an older lady gave me a sandwich. I told her, “Thank you, someday I will pay back this sandwich”. I remember that moment because I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t know how to respond other than with gratefulness. The sandwich and food hamper gave me the energy to push forward and their guidance helped me to access resources I needed to secure a place to live and find full time work. Years later, I find myself here. Paying back that sandwich. Coincidence? I’m not sure but I know I’m appreciative to have found myself in a position where I can use my experiences and knowledge to help others. I work with the best team here at the Shediac Food Bank and they inspire me every day. We have a goal for the greater good and there is no doubt about that.
What is your greatest achievement in your current role?
I consider all of the achievements here at Vestiaire St-Joseph to be a team initiative. I can’t take full responsibility for any one achievement.
We have expanded to become an education center that offers many programs to our clients and community. A teaching kitchen, three classrooms with a full-time high school equivalency educator, an open concept food bank, a new greenhouse. This happens because of teamwork and that is our greatest achievement. I just direct, hence “director”.
What is the greatest challenge in your current role?
My greatest challenge is to figure out how we can help those less fortunate to further themselves and how others view those less fortunate. We are individuals and we are as unique as our situations. You’d be surprised how the little things matter. Little things can light a spark, instill confidence and change perceptions.
If you could have one wish granted that would address hunger in Canada, what would it be?
Waste reduction. As a logistician, it’s clear the amount of food and other items that can be saved from expiry is outstanding. We have enough food to feed everyone here in Canada with the right people manning the helm. Again, teamwork with our local, provincial, national businesses, organizations and political parties. Food Banks Canada is a great start towards this process and I have full faith the future will be much brighter in the coming years.
What talent would you most like to have?
I work in a predominately Acadian French region. Although my last name is LeBlanc, I speak French on a primary level. The culture and community here is amazing. My grandfather, Hector LeBlanc, was an Acadian from Bouctouche and because of our time together, I’m told I was fluent at a young age but not so much anymore. I’m taking French lessons currently and my brain is trying to learn. The Acadian people are very accommodating when they realize I don’t speak the language, they switch to English. Now that’s a talent that I wish I had!
If you could tell your younger self some advice, what would it be?
Use your ears more than your mouth.
Who are your heroes? Fictional or real life.
My greatest hero is my Grade 8 math teacher. Mr. Roy Grant became my father throughout life until his passing in 2014. He taught me the values I have today.
What is your idea of happiness?
A canoe running down a fast river at sunset. Fishing on Lake Mockingee in Nova Scotia or doing something adventurous and risky. Most of all, time with my son Keagan and my fiancé Annie. They keep me grounded and safe from most risky things I’d otherwise get myself in trouble with.
What is your motto?
Be kind. Be understanding. Be courageous and strong when needed, stick up for the underdog and never quit.
What’s something quirky about you that others may not expect or know?
I have a fascination with uncontacted tribes of people throughout the world. If it’s raining or snowing outside and if I’m not being a dad or working, I enjoy researching their native people’s history.
What’s your theme song?
“Ocean Sized” by Jane’s Addiction.
Do you know a food bank or food banker that could be featured on our next Spotlight? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.