Homelessness and hunger were two things that bothered me. And I wanted to be that change, I wanted to see, well what can I do? How can I make a difference? I’m Captain Rory Johnston, I’m currently the Operations Officer at 11th Field, Guelph. You don’t really realize it until you see people living in warzone countries. Or who are affected, whether it’s through ISIS or other terrorist organizations; bombings, threats. We’re very lucky not to have to worry about where our next meal will come from, where we’re going to sleep at night, if we’re safe, if we have shelter or if we really have to fear for our lives. And coming back, it’s difficult at first, but then you realize that, you know what, we have our own problems in Canada too. We do have people that are hungry, we do have people that are homeless and we do have people that fear for their lives and that don’t have a shelter and they may not know where their next meal will come from. So, to me it’s eye-opening in coming back to Canada, in a country that welcomes those refugees back, is motivating for me.
About five years ago I started collecting warm clothing donations just from friends and family. And it started with just individually handing out to those people on the streets that most critically needed it. It’s picked up over the years and it’s been a great little movement. It’s gone from a few garbage bags now to, you know, tables full of clothes. Facebook, with the exposure that it can get, I just post quick and I’ll ask my friends saying: “Hey, I’m doing my next clothing drive in a month or so, please empty out your closets, you know it’s fall it’s that time of year, I’ll find a good home for it.”
Some people from the Regiment kind of hopped on it and saw some posts and like: “Hey, you know we’ve got some clothes too” or “We got some things we can donate, you mind if we bring to the armoury?” One thing kind of just led to another and I thought, how can we include the Regiment into some of these initiatives that are still within guidelines and policies within the CAF? So we found ones that worked and that were win-win. Ex Giving Gunner is a kind of Christmas charitable drive that we started at 11th Field Regiment and it’s twofold. So on the one side of it is collecting non-perishable food items, it goes directly to feeding those in need in the city of Guelph. And the second part of it is raising funds for the local women’s shelter. We just try to take a load off their mind at Christmas, to not have to worry about what your kids are and aren’t getting, and raise as much money as we can to provide all the children at the shelter with a fun Christmas.
To have my son volunteer with me means a lot because, you know, as a parent you want to lay that foundation for your children and set the right example and instill those values. To hope that when he grows up and becomes his own man that it will resonate with him and he’ll still be willing to go out there and put his time towards making a difference. You know I’m very proud of him for always lending a helping hand.
I think there’s definitely a connection between the military and between service and volunteering as a civilian, because with both, there’s a certain selflessness that comes this, with putting others ahead of yourself. Whether it’s in the military deploying overseas and fighting for those who can’t defend themselves, or for civilians and advocating for the homeless and hungry who may not be able to feed or clothe themselves. It’s about passion. And I’m passionate as a soldier, but I’m also passionate as a civilian.