Using Your Photography to Make a Difference

January 1st is a special day to me and I know exactly where I’m going to be when I am in Edmonton.  Bissell Centre’s annual New Years Day dinner!  I’ve been a volunteer in one capacity or another with the centre for about 20 years.  I actually can’t even remember when my first year was now, except that I know a friend of mine was the volunteer coordinator at the time and she called in desperate need of people to help out with the dinner, so I went, and have been going back ever since.  I find it’s such an eye opener, especially for first timers, and a great way to gain perspective and start the new year off with a good attitude.

Start the year off right

I became a bit jaded with the commercialism of Christmas over the years so I started giving Bissell a lump donation from my photography company, in the names of all my loved ones, in lieu of gifts.  I asked them to do the same or give to a charity of their choice in my name.  I’m happy to say it caught on in my family and we continue to do so in some fashion to this day. Last year we each were told to do something good (donate our time, money, pay it forward, etc) for someone else and just write a letter to tell the rest of the group what you did.  To me, THAT is the true spirit of Christmas and giving.  Going to the dinner on January 1st just adds to that feeling and lets one see how much we have, and how little others have, and yet how they still somehow survive and are happy.  As I said, gives me perspective on what’s really important.

54 turkeys arrive to be carved

I am usually involved in serving the meal (about 1000 pounds of turkey and 1000 people get served each year, all time, cooking and food is donated) but this year they added “photographer” to the volunteer list and I jumped at the chance to photograph it.  I hope my images do the event justice and serve to help them make a difference for those people that come to Bissell Centre for help.  As photographers, I think most of us dream that our images will somehow make an impact and make a difference in the world, if even in the life of one person. If this story and my images touch you and move you to donate or volunteer please do so, and please let me know (add a comment below) so I can feel that I have succeeded in a small way.

If you’re not familiar with the Bissell Centre hop on over to their web site and see all the good things they do.  Short answer is they support inner city folks, most of whom are a bit down on their luck. They provide hot meals, resume writing help, counseling, child care, summer camps, toiletries, clothes, food hampers, special events, gifts at holiday time, a place to shower and have a hot coffee, and so much more.  The biggest thing that I’ve seen them provide is hope.  It’s in their mission statement and it permeates everything that they do at the centre.  Hope to those that feel hopeless and helpless. A hand UP, not a hand out.

The food arrives

Over the years I’ve done various things with the centre including; sitting on the fund raising committee, and gathering donations for their big auction held annually; sorting donations; helping serve the daily meal in the drop-in centre; putting on a Christmas party for the kids; volunteer at special events like the auction, New Years day, and round dance events; and photography a couple times.  I’ve done the New Years dinner and served more coffee and orange drink than I care to count (my thumb has actually turned orange a couple of those years from pressing the button on the juice dispenser). This year they wanted a photographer and I jumped at the chance to document what it is this dinner is all about and help the Bissell promote community awareness of their programs and get some much needed funds.

About 1000 pounds of turkey was cooked and served

Much of their funding comes from individual and business donors, ordinary people like you and me.  I actually give a portion of my salary to them as well now each month. If your company supports the United Way and matches donations or adds to it – you can choose what agency your funds go to if you wish, I choose Bissell, you can too!  Or you can donate directly through their site.

Click on any of the images to view them larger.


Volunteers spend hours slicing the turkeys

Desserts are donated from local businesses, all arranged by volunteers

Last minute instructions for us from the volunteer co-ordinator

The line up starts about an hour before the doors are opened

Gloves, hats, scarves and socks are passed out as people enter the dining area

Greeters welcome everyone with a smile and a Happy New Year

The happy volunteers in the food serving line

Over 1200 meals served on this day

Gary is always at the centre helping out, he's great!

Our oldest attendee of the day at 102 years young, getting served

Part of the security team that helps keep the event safe and fun for everyone

Terry is a photographer as well, we had a great chat, and he has great accessories: hand carved cane, gold Haida ring, hand beaded buckskin gloves and that awesome hat!

More volunteers, they make the event happen

This smile is why I do this! Watch this series for what happens next!

Love the fact that big sister shared with her

Pure joy!

Does it get any better than happy kids like this?!

One of the volunteers prepares extra meals for take out

One of the staff at Bissell, Josh, talks with a volunteer

Take out dishes ready to hand out

A regular volunteer with Bissell Centre, Veejay, right, has a fan (I like her too!)

over 1000 cups of coffee served

Everyone pitches in at the end to clean up

This is what it's all about. Love for each other, need I say more?

Some of the stats from the day as posted on Twitter.

If you use Twitter, please follow the Edmonton Bissell Centre

I often think of this quote and try and do my part.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” Helen Keller

These images and the time I’ve spent at the Centre over the years are my contribution. What can you do today? What WILL you do?

It’s our world. I challenge you to do something good for someone else today, or this week. Post a comment here and tell me how you’ve contributed to help. Let’s see what our community can achieve together.

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” Ghandi

Happy New Year everyone!

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About Your Tutor

photography tutor in Edmonton

Born and raised in Edmonton, Darlene has had formal training in photography at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. She enjoys portraits, fine art, and travel photography. She is a seasoned traveler having spent time in Mexico, Singapore, Malaysia, Peru, Thailand, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Cuba and Australia. Darlene loves exotic locales, exotic food and experiencing different countries directly through the local people and the cultural arts. Her vision is to share her artistic talents through teaching “the art of seeing”, and to spread love and tolerance through the experience of truly connecting with and understanding people of different cultures.