IBM volunteers help feed needy in Victoria, Canada

Story of service • Canada • June 2013


IBM’s Deanna Drschiwiski inspired and
led an annual food drive in Victoria,
Canada that today has become a
fixture of charitable giving in that city’s
technology community. Companies
participating in the Challenge have
contributed more than $1.5 million in
food and cash to the Mustard Seed
organization over the years.
Victoria, the capital of British Columbia in western Canada, enjoys a mild climate and beautiful scenery. Tourists and retirees flock to it, the “City of Gardens.” It has Canada's highest household Internet usage and is ranked as "Canada's Smartest City" by a national magazine. The technology sector, with more than 800 companies in the vicinity, provides the largest revenue of any private industry in the area. Yet, in this ideal setting, homelessness and hunger are still a challenge for some of the city’s citizens.

“At first it was just personal donations, but 12 or 13 years ago I started a small Christmas food drive at the company where I worked,” says Deanna Drschiwiski, who, today, is a project manager at IBM’s software development lab in Victoria. “I didn't collect money then, just food, and we raised over 500 pounds of food.”

The following year, Deanna worked with her CEO at the time to expand the food drive to include other technology companies in Victoria. Collectively, the companies doubled the amount of food donated to more than a ton, benefitting the clients of the Mustard Seed—a not-for-profit faith-based organization working to address hunger and poverty in Greater Victoria which provided food for about 7500 people a month.

Friendly competition for a good cause

Today, Deanna’s initial idea of the food drive has grown and is known as the annual Food Bank Challenge—a fixture of charitable giving among the 30 or more technology companies who participate each year. The Victoria Advanced Technology Council (VIATeC) now hosts the annual challenge on behalf of the technology sector in the area, collecting the food and other donations from participating companies while running a points-driven competition to stimulate as much giving as possible.

Under VIATeC management, but based on Deanna’s vision, the Food Bank Challenge for the Mustard Seed is organized into internal competitions, where teams inside a company compete with one another to see who can raise the most, and an external competition, pitting Victoria-area tech companies against one another in a contest to be the greatest contributor. As Deanna says, “It’s a little friendly competition to support a good cause.” She continues to work with VIATec to organize the points system, train volunteers, suggest new events and speak at external events.

When Deanna joined IBM in 2005 her commitment to the Mustard Seed food drive came with her. She has led IBM’s participation in the Challenge every year, including 2011, when IBM and its employee donors claimed the top spot as “Greatest Overall Contributor.”

Every fall, weekly internal events at IBM help raise awareness about the Challenge and give employees an opportunity to make contributions during the drive period. The events are fun get-togethers, and include contests such as chess and foosball tournaments, poker challenges and a final thank you event for donors. “I used to bake pies as awards for internal event winners and also for the person who donated the most each week,” says Deanna. “I was also the person cooking the weekly hot lunches during the drive, sometimes for 30 to 50 people.”

Building on a decade of success, team lends a hand

Leading a volunteer effort for more than a decade takes commitment and it also takes time. Before 2012 the bulk of the work fell on Deanna, including creating internal teams, finding leaders for those teams, collecting money, reconciling donations, collecting non-perishables, dropping off loads of donations, cooking and baking, canvassing for volunteers, scheduling events and maintaining regular communications with teams.

Help arrived when several of Deanna’s colleagues, including her manager, stepped in to lend a hand. One team member, Guru Ajmani, has helped organize volunteers during the drive period and run the poker challenge—a big hit every year and the most popular and successful donation event. He’s even contributed a curry hot lunch served with the event.

Chris Phillips, on the same IBM team with Guru, developed an online system based on IBM Forms that allows donors to make pledges and verify the accuracy of their information, and for collectors to track the actual donations. Deanna says “I used to run everything off spreadsheets, collect all the money, make sure all the cash was there at the end, and compile the donor information so they would get their tax receipts. Chris’s new way is much better!”

Deanna’s manager, Steve Shewchuk, has helped with the accounting, reconciling donations against the records. In addition, in 2012, Marcus Csaky, a software engineer on the IBM Forms team, presented an IBM Activity Kit called “Small Business Boost” to the staff at the Mustard Seed who can use the lessons to help prepare their clients for employment opportunities.

In 2012 the IBM team raised over $12,000 in donations for the Mustard Seed, a high per-employee contribution rate for a site with an employee population of only about 70 people. While the IBM team did not officially compete in that year’s Food Bank Challenge—they moved up their food drive to earlier in the fall to qualify for an IBM community grant—the amount represents a significant donation from the IBM volunteers and donors in Victoria.

“I'm proud that I started something that has had so much impact and lasted so long,” says Deanna. She adds that over the years she’s learned “that most people are generous and want to help.”

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