fter 11 years with the White Rock/South Surrey Food Bank – the past five as manager – Ruth Chitty has resigned to finally pursue advice her brother gave her on his deathbed: make sure you leave this life with no regrets.
“He said, ‘I know you’re passionate about your work, but you really need to pay attention that you have no regrets on your deathbed’,” Chitty said, recalling the words on her last day at the 24 Avenue facility, Sept. 1.
“That was indelibly written in my mind.”
As often happens, in the years that followed, the advice slipped to the back of Chitty’s mind, and she continued on with her busy life, putting many things on hold – exercise and getting back to art among them.
It wasn’t until the recent deaths of two more of her five siblings – one a year ago, the other in January – that Chitty decided to follow her brother’s advice.
“I was reminded and took stock and re-evaluated,” she said. “I realized I had put a lot on hold… really important things in my life that I wanted to have more time for.”
Though she gave her notice to Sources in April, word of Chitty’s resignation wasn’t widespread at the food bank until closer to her final days there. She even resisted talking about it publicly until her last official day.
“I knew it was going to be hard,” Chitty said, of saying goodbye.
While Chitty has left her post, and plans to spend whatever amount of time feels right in order to rejuvenate, she is certain a return to social justice work is in her future.
Working at the food bank was “really inspiring” she said, and it taught her a lot about community.
But such programs don’t impact the problem at its core, she said, and that is where she wants to focus.
“Food banks are important services, but they’re Band-Aids to dealing with the issue of poverty,” Chitty said. “It’s really important work and yet it’s hard to continue in it when the causes – the root causes – are not being addressed.”
Before working at the local food bank, Chitty spent 10 years with Battered Women’s Support Services in Vancouver.
It was through work there that she learned there is more to the symptoms, behaviours and beliefs of a woman who has been abused than many people, including some professionals, understand.
Those symptoms need to be put in the context of what each woman has endured, Chitty said.
Learning what her own mother went through in the ’30s further fueled Chitty’s passion. It was only about 20 years ago, when her mother was 80 years old, that Chitty discovered the horrors she endured after giving birth to her first child.
She was institutionalized for eight months and forced to endure shock therapy after negligence during childbirth resulted in her developing septicemia, a life-threatening infection that caused her to hallucinate – and doctors of the day to believe she was mentally ill.
Chitty learned the story while in the process of supporting a woman who had also been locked up.
Chitty believes one of the greatest contributions she made in supporting battered women was in genuinely listening to them; being “a very present witness to their stories.”
It’s a skill she carried with her to the food bank, where the resilience and resourcefulness of clients and volunteers alike “transformed me.”
“We can’t make assumptions about people, why they’re here,” she said.
“We need to hear their stories… finding a way in our differences to see how we connect and why it’s important that we do connect.
“I really strongly believe that it is an illusion to think that our welfare is separate from the welfare of others.”