René and Colette Fontaine, a married couple living in St. Boniface, had busy and fulfilling careers before they retired. “When we were done working, and our family had grown up and other responsibilities were put to rest, we decided it was time to give back,” explains René. “We’ve been quite fortunate in our lives, and we wanted to help our community. That’s when we found Centre Flavie.”
Originally, the couple looked for places to volunteer that were close to home, but as they learned more about Centre Flavie, they realized it was a great fit for them in many other ways, too. The Centre, which provides comfort and support to the impoverished and the vulnerable by distributing no cost material goods, is now an important part of their weekly routine.
The couple spends three mornings a week helping to sort through donations and support those seeking goods. “When someone is looking for something specific and we can help, they are just so happy and appreciative. Especially when they get something hard to find, like a microwave. We can’t keep those in stock. Honestly, we need more microwaves!” shares Colette with a laugh.
René finds satisfaction from the type of work they’re doing and how they approach it. “We only put out the items that we would feel comfortable using ourselves,” he continues. “And sometimes, the donations arrive like an avalanche. We’ll spend three hours working really hard and we wonder what would have happened if we weren’t there to help that day. The volunteers makes such a difference at Flavie, and we know the staff and management appreciate it.”
That appreciation, and the connection they find with others are motivators for both René and Colette. “When I give a doll or a box of Lego to a child, I watch their eyes light up,” shares Colette. “Then we meet people from Ukraine, who are using their phone to translate for them so they can talk to us. You see that there’s a smile on their face, but it’s hard for them. Knowing that taking a few minutes to talk really makes a difference to them…that’s all we need to know.”
The centre’s clientele and their needs are ever evolving. Centre Flavie moved to a new location in June of 2022, in order to be able to double their warehouse space. “We still need more volunteers, especially with the new space,” says René. “There are now twice the number of clients coming through the building. We need more folks to answer questions, direct traffic and just be helpful.”
The Fontaines express a deep sense of gratitude for the work they do, the people they’ve met and the sense of community they’ve developed. “It’s so fulfilling to see the smile on someone’s face when they find what they need,” Colette shares. “For us, this is about trying to be helpful consider all that is happening in the world right now. There are struggles and conflicts and this is our tiny way of making good.”
“Watching the little ones come in…it’s like Christmas for them,” concludes René. “It puts a smile on their face to be able to choose a few toys. What more can you ask for? It’s all good.”
If you’d like to volunteer at Centre Flavie, please click here.