Every month, Octopus Giving recognises a colleague who’s done great things by volunteering for charity. January’s award goes to Uliana Kuzmis, Senior Development Underwriter at Octopus Property, in recognition of her work with FoodCycle, a charity that cooks meals for vulnerable people from food donated by local supermarkets and businesses. Uliana gets £500 to donate to a charity close to her heart.
Why did you decide to start volunteering?
I work in the Development team at Octopus Property, and I’m involved in our team’s wellness initiative. We are a hardworking team, and we often have to work long hours under pressure. The wellness initiative is about making our team a little happier and a little healthier, by improving our sense of wellbeing and balance.
We naturally focus on fitness-based challenges, but Emma Ryan – who’s part of our wellness team and won last September’s Volunteer of the Month – suggested we take on a charity challenge instead. We asked everyone to volunteer four hours of their time, within the next three months.
We knew this was an ambitious target, but at Octopus Property we always aim high!
Did you volunteer at a particular event to earn the VOM award?
I personally volunteered for FoodCycle, as part of our charity challenge. I think they’re incredible. They support vulnerable people who are hungry or lonely, by serving tasty meals in a warm, welcoming environment, all over the country. This is the charity closest to my heart, and I encouraged everyone to volunteer for this charity.
By the end of our three-month challenge, the Octopus Property team had volunteered over 180 hours in total. It was a fantastic effort. Some of the team were inspired to volunteer at FoodCycle more than once. And our team’s wellness score has improved too!
Why did you choose to volunteer for FoodCycle?
The concept of cooking food and caring for people really resonates with me, so FoodCycle was a natural fit. They also use food that is close to its expiry date and might otherwise go to waste, which is a great solution to such a common problem.
Volunteering at FoodCycle means you’re doing something really honest and simple by cooking a hot meal and serving it to people who need it the most. There’s a lot of satisfaction from doing that.
Why were you awarded Volunteer of the Month for January?
Many people in our team jumped at the chance to take part in the challenge. But we’re all very busy, so for others, it was harder to find the time.
I was proactive about getting my team involved. With my ability to drive people forward, I persuaded the entire Development team to sign up first. My manager, Gavin Eustace, was great! He communicated to everyone that he was fully supportive of the initiative and encouraged everyone to sign up, leading by his own example. That was a big help.
I also worked closely with other team leaders to ensure they were motivating their own teams to follow our example, and to even use the charity challenge as a team-building exercise.
Was there a memorable moment from your volunteering?
In general, seeing our guests enjoy their meal made me emotional. But there was one particular moment – when we finished serving. I noticed big portraits of many of our guests, from a Christmas dinner.
A photographer took their portraits, with everyone smiling. I could feel the story behind each picture. It reminded me that no one is forgotten, and in this community, everyone belongs.
Have you decided where your £500 donation will go?
Of course, it has to be FoodCycle! In my eyes, there’s no better place for it.
And finally…what’s your message for anyone who hasn’t volunteered before?
Everyone wins from volunteering. The charity, the community – and the volunteer. You don’t need special skills or talent to help out. At FoodCycle, you could peel potatoes or wash dishes. That’s all you need to do to help.
It’s important to find time to do it. At Octopus, you’re encouraged to volunteer. It’s just a matter of choosing a day and getting on with it!