Finding Chris Grauer can be like looking for the proverbial needle in the volunteer haystack.
Reaching him at almost any hour of the day at the Soupateria is usually a good bet, and if not, there’s always Critteraid in Summerland, the Gleaners in Oliver or possibly the Naramata Centre.
But not today.
For those who know the 63-year-old Naramata resident, his reluctancy to talk, especially about his least favourite subject — himself — shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Grauer was recently honoured as a recipient of the B.C. Community Achievement Award by Premier Christy Clark and chairman Keith Mitchell of the Achievement Foundation for his selfless efforts.
“Sorry, I guess I’m just not an award-type person,” he said when finally cornered at the Summerland animal shelter. “I love the stuff, I do, but I don’t really care if anybody knows that it’s me.
“When I was a kid I always felt like it was important doing things for other people, just shoveling the snow off somebody’s walk, so if it’s helping somebody else that’s what’s most important to me.”
Grauer typically puts in a six-day work week: “I try and take most of Sunday off if I can, just to have a bit of quiet time,” something he has done since retiring from the Naramata Centre more than 15 years ago.
“This (award) is really not necessary,” he said. “It’s different at the soup kitchen, if a few people stop by the window and say ‘boy that was good, thanks very much,’ that’s great, that’s all the payment I need.
“That’s what makes my heart happy, knowing that we’ve done a good job, that’s the reward right there.”
Richard Simpson has worked alongside Grauer for several years at the Soupateria and never ceases to be amazed by his cohort’s spirit.
“He has a very positive attitude and is genuinely concerned about the welfare of the people, which is why he just does everything possible to make their experience a good one,” said Simpson. “This award is very well deserved but Chris is a very humble person — humility is a very good descriptor for him — and he would never put his hand up and say: ‘look at me.’ He just quietly goes about his work to make a difference to people we serve.”
Grauer’s friend suggested compassion is the secret ingredient in every meal the chief chef has a hand in making for the less fortunate.
“He also does some pretty amazing cooking,” said Simpson. “He prepares dishes you don’t normally see in a soup kitchen, well beyond just making a bowl of soup. That dedication also rubs off, it’s very inspiring to other people around him.”
According to Grauer, one of the most important lessons he’s learned during his years of helping others is to always remain open minded.
“I just think that it could easily be me on the other side of the counter (at the Soupateria) so when you’re doing volunteer work you can’t be judgmental,” he said.
“Some people worry if they see somebody getting food who doesn’t deserve it. I don’t worry about that at all, I just see folks in poor shape and at least we can give them one good meal a day, a pleasant smile and a hello.”
Along that line, he remembers a patron who stopped by for a free lunch and afterwards gave him a $100 bill as a donation for the society.
Although his work at the Okanagan Gleaners began a number of years ago, he still gets a lot of enjoyment out of looking at the pictures from the poor countries which benefit from the fruits and vegetables which would otherwise be thrown away.
He can only describe the looks on the faces of the children as “wonderful.”
And if he wasn’t busy enough with those two charities, his love of animals prompted him to volunteer at Critteraid a few years ago.
So strong is that compassion he’s even managed to put a positive spin on cleaning cat litter boxes.
“I don’t find that any big deal, plus if you love spending time with animals — I spend the day with 85 cats, and for me it’s a peaceful time,” said the volunteer.
Although Grauer doesn’t like to preach to others about how to live their lives, he does have one suggestion:
“If everybody could do a couple of good things everyday for somebody else, especially for somebody they don’t know, the world would maybe be a different and better place.”