Soup kitchen chef earns Alberta’s top volunteer award

Irma “Granny” Gray of Whitecourt is the 2011 Volunteer Citizen of the Year. Her dedication to a long list of community organizations includes founding a local soup kitchen and operating as its head chef for over four years.

Now in its seventh year, the award is sponsored jointly by Direct Energy and the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association (AWNA). Nominations for the award were solicited from more than 100 Alberta communities.

“Ms. Gray’s numerous accolades and letters of support from members of the Whitecourt community made her a clear frontrunner for the Award,” says Tanis Kozak, Direct Energy’s vice-president and general manager. “Her many years of unwavering dedication to her community are a true inspiration.”

Granny Gray dedicates her time to a long list of community organizations in Whitecourt including, the Youth Justice Committee, Lorne’s Blanket, Girl Guides of Canada, her local church, the Whitecourt Legion, various seniors groups, the Boys and Girls Club, the local homeless shelter, the Lac St. Anne or affordable housing foundation, and as one of the founding members and head cook of Tennille’s Hope Kommunity Kitchen.

When Gray heard the news that the possibility of a soup kitchen was opening, she said, “If a soup kitchen opens, as long as I’m alive, you will never have to worry about cooking the soup.”

More than four years later, Granny still plans the meals, does the shopping, fundraises to purchase supplies and equipment and personally cooks and serves the food to the many people who count on the meals each week.

Gray, the mother of seven children, eighteen grandchildren and ten great grandchildren said, “I feel like an old car battery,” when she heard she’d been selected as the 2011 winner. “When I volunteer, I am charged. It keeps me young and I look forward to it; it’s my whole life.”

Close friend and fellow volunteer Bob Walker wrote in his nomination: “Some people were put on this earth to look after people and make the world a better place, Irma is one of those.”

Gray received a $1,000 cash award from Direct Energy as well as a plaque signifying her achievement.

In addition, Direct Energy made a donation of $5,000 in her name to Tennille’s Hope Kommunity Kitchen, a charity chosen by Gray.

“What’s great about this award is that we get to recognize people like Irma for their selfless contributions and also give financial support to a cause that’s important to their community,” said AWNA president Ossie Sheddy.

Four finalists, including Sherrie Mitchell from Ponoka (see story in Community section) were also selected for outstanding volunteer efforts in their communities and will each receive $1,000 toward their charitable organization of choice.

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