By Mimi Kmet
On a crisp, sunny day in May, nine travelers disembarked a shuttle bus on a quiet side street in Victoria, B.C., away from the historic city’s main tourist area. I was among this group, the participants of which had opted to use this port call of our luxury Pacific Coast voyage to volunteer at The Mustard Seed, Vancouver Island’s largest food bank.
Victoria is an ideal destination for decidedly elegant experiences: having high tea at the grand Fairmont Empress hotel and strolling through the glorious Butchart Gardens just north of the city. But our group relished the opportunity to give something back to the community we were visiting — something above and beyond contributing to its tourism economy by shopping, dining and visiting its attractions. Our excursion was among Crystal’s “You Care, We Care” collection of philanthropic Crystal Adventures — which are offered complimentary for guests, and even crew, who wish to volunteer.
Jackie Cox-Ziegler, The Mustard Seed’s director of administration, met us and told us a little about the non-profit organization, which refers to the people it helps as its guests. It’s more than just a food bank. With the goals of breaking the cycle of poverty in Greater Victoria and offering guests a hand-up, according to Cox-Ziegler, it also has a chapel and a clothing bank and offers services like hair cutting, counseling, and addiction recovery.
There were several areas within the facility where we could help. Two of us helped guests take their groceries to their cars. They ranged from a young family with three children under age 5 to a woman driving a mobility scooter.
Others from our group greeted guests at the reception desk, helped with administrative tasks, and worked in the warehouse, sorting and storing items and getting them ready to be packaged for guests. We worked alongside staff members and volunteers from the community and enjoyed having a more personal experience with the destination and its locals in an atmosphere of dignity and grace.
The Mustard Seed food bank opportunity is one of many “You Care, We Care” voluntourism options offered by Crystal Cruises, providing ways for Crystal guests and crew members to get intimately involved with serving the needs of the destinations to which they travel. Such excursions are offered on most itineraries throughout the year.
Among the upcoming “You Care, We Care” opportunities in 2015 are planting trees in Iceland, visiting residents of a home for the elderly in Croatia, participating in a rescue drill of a dolphin or other sea animal in Barcelona, and visiting with children and decorating for Christmas at a home for displaced, abandoned and abused children on Tobago.
While we still had time after our excursion to explore Victoria on our own, our experience at The Mustard Seed was grounding. In the midst of having the privilege of receiving excellent service during a luxury cruise, I discovered that being in service to others is the greatest privilege of all.
Discover how you can give back on any of many upcoming Crystal Cruises voyages, including Voyage 5311, “Adriatic Adventure” (Istanbul to Venice), and Voyage 5214, “Trans-Atlantic Treasures” (New York to London), both departing June 12.
(Featured image: Volunteers at The Mustard Seed food bank. Photo courtesy of The Mustard Seed)