“I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to me,” says Al Georgeson, 52, about his volunteer pot-scrubbing job at the Rainbow Kitchen. He’s been working there for 16 months, four days a week, and loves every minute.

The Rainbow Kitchen Society, now funded in part by the United Way, has been operating since 2001. More than 200 volunteers prepare meals weekdays for up to 150 people daily at this cosy community hall behind Esquimalt United Church. Those served are people living with poverty or facing other challenges. Many start as guests who become volunteers, loving the camaraderie as much as the tasty hot lunches.

It’s hard to believe Al was shy at first as he talks candidly now about the positives of volunteering; like knowing he can give back to a place that gave so much to him. “I get lunch and a take-away dinner which saves me money and gives me peace-of-mind to carry on with my other projects.”

Diagnosed with a bi-polar disorder at 20, and recently re-diagnosed as schizophrenic, Al has learned to effectively manage his symptoms with medication, albeit “heavy stuff.” He fights the drowsy side effects, focusing on activities he enjoys which include washing pots and mapping out mechanical inventions in his spare time. No longer able to work, he started coming to Rainbow Kitchen for meals as a way to stretch his modest disability pension.

“I’d hoped to get a paying job here but they told me no one gets paid. We all work from the heart.” Al liked that idea and agreed to a volunteer job many considered the worst job of all.

“He’s part of our family now,” says Allan Lindskoog, society VP. Having watched Al gradually come out of his shell while serving as a reliable, thoughtful worker affirms a fundamental belief. “Food and community help people relax and converse and feel good,” Lindskoog says. “That’s why we strive to keep this kitchen as inclusive as possible. We are grateful to the United Way for their support which helps keep us up and running.”