Q & A with a community builder | Ontario Agricultural College

Q & A with a community builder

Posted on Wednesday, January 4th, 2023

Selfie photo of Rod up close, his wife and three children sitting on couch behind him

Rod Sanchez (MSc. in Food Safety & Quality Assurance, 2022) emigrated from Chile in 2016 with his family. Shortly after settling in Canada, he created ChaoChile a virtual community for Chilean immigrants. We chatted with Rod to learn more about this passion for volunteering and creating a new sense of community in Canada.

Tell us about the virtual community you created.

ChaoChile is a virtual group of Chilean immigrant families and professionals, and those in the process of migrating to Canada. When my family of five moved to Canada in 2016, we made many mistakes. After a few months being here, I thought it would be nice to support other Chilean families coming to Canada. I started the WhatsApp group and added a few people. More and more people joined, and we started helping new families coming from Chile. Today we have over 30,000 participants spanning our Telegram and Facebook groups. Over the years, with the support of dedicated administrators, we have created different subgroups, like groups for each province, one for women and one for families with pets. We offer community, systematic supports and professional networks.

What inspired you to start ChaoChile?

The desire to help others and a need to build community. We really have built a community. We have supported at least 700 families in the last five years. Community is so important, and it is what makes Canada different. Canada cares more about the ‘we’ than the ‘I’. That is what makes Canada great, and we are trying to share and showcase the value of community to others.

What are other ways you are building community?

ChaoChile was just the beginning. There was a need to provide professional networks. I helped create the Association of Chilean Technicians and Professionals in Canada. We offer networking, seminars and workshops to help immigrants find employment in Canada.

What has the most impact?

We also started an initiative called, ‘A Timmy for a New Canadian’, where we buy Tim Horton’s for newly immigrated families. There is nothing more Canadian than Tim Horton’s. Every incoming family receives a gift of Tim Horton’s coffee and food from the previous family recipients. They are asked to take a selfie and share their story on our Instagram account, @atimmyforanewcanadian, which now has over 3,000 followers. Then they choose the next family recipients. Of everything we’ve done I think the Timmy initiative has the most added value, because this is our way to say, ‘you are not alone, and we will support you’.

Why is this work important to you?

I want to give back what Canada gave me. I am very proud of my technical jobs, but they are just jobs. When you volunteer you are changing people’s lives. ChaoChile for example has had significant impact. That is way more valuable than any amount of money I could ever make. When you start helping others, you cannot stop. We are not only changing the lives of current families, but we are also changing the lives of the next generation.

You also volunteer with Food for Life. Tell us about that.

Food for Life is the largest food rescue organization in Halton and Hamilton. I was invited to join their board of directors. It is a beautiful project. We are doing two big things; we are rescuing food that is about to be thrown out and providing food for people in need. We are complementing other food banks by improving folks’ nutrition, while fighting poverty. I recommend visiting the Food for Life website, they are always looking for new volunteers and supporters.

Aside from volunteering you have over 15 years of experience working in the food industry. What inspired you to work in food?

Food for me was not the logical path. I studied biochemistry, so I had all the foundation of chemistry and microbiology. Essentially, I wasn’t specialized in anything, but I had a broad understanding of everything. I originally thought I would do a PhD, but I wanted to pursue something more applied. I didn’t want to write papers and wait years to see my results published. I wanted to see the results of my work relatively quickly, and for me it made sense to go into food research and development, where you can see results in six months.

Because of my education I can understand all processes. Whether I am working in animal protein, cookies or beer, everything is biology and chemistry, so it was easy for me to understand and get to the root cause of the problems. I really enjoy it; it is about passion. I have been lucky to like most of my jobs, they often feel like hobbies.

Tell us about your job.

I work as a research and development transition lead with Dare Foods Limited, a Canadian-based food manufacturing company. They recently opened a new facility, and it is my job to support the transition and solve challenges as they arise. With my background in research and development and operations, it is the perfect job for me and is one of the best jobs I have ever had. It’s a lot of problem solving. If we are running a cookie and the chocolate isn’t working properly for the topping, I must go back, look at the machines, the line and the packaging. I must look at the big picture, which I really enjoy.

What inspired you to study the FSQA program?

I worked for three years on a project, making malt from barley. I call it a project because it was not a stable business for too long. After trying for years to run our equipment, sadly it didn’t work the way we expected. We started to bring raw materials from Chile instead, but COVID-19 hit and we could not continue. We ended up closing the company. I thought it was a good time to expand my knowledge.

I was weak in regulation and quality assurance, so that was my challenge to do something good in 2020. The experience confirmed that I really love research and development and it expanded my knowledge in North American regulations. It added a lot of value.

What was a highlight of the program?

Connecting with the academy. I was nervous to return to university, but the program is very well done for working professionals. I was able to have a full-time job and do the program at the same time. The knowledge I gained in regulations was a highlight for me, it helps me a lot in my current role. Dare Foods Limited is a great company and I believe my master’s helped me land the job with them. The FSQA program was a great compliment to my experience. I really appreciate what the master’s did for me.

This article was originally published in the LIBRANNI 2023 / Vol. 5

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