My First Job: Richard LeBer
Harry Chapin Food Bank’s president and CEO reflects on his first job.
My first job was delivering advertising circulars door-to-door around my neighborhood. I was about 13 or 14, and every night when I finished my homework I’d take some circulars, leave the house and walk or ride my bicycle, delivering these ads to people’s mailboxes.
We lived in Ottawa, Canada, so it was sometimes pretty cold and dark out there. It was also very little money. Best case, if it was some fancy, seasonal catalog, you might get the princely sum of 10 cents a catalog. My parents were pretty clear, though: If I was going to agree to do this, I needed to commit to it.
I ultimately remember it being pretty exciting. Earning my own money and being able to run around the neighborhood was kind of liberating. You were just out there doing your own thing with no one looking over your shoulder, and making some money while doing it.
In retrospect, it wasn’t very much money, but I remember being surprised back then, in the early 1970s, at how much I made. What I really wanted at the time was a fancy, 10-speed racing bike. My family’s circumstances were modest. We weren’t in a position to spend that kind of money on a bike, but after I had done this job for a while, I was able to save up and buy my own.
I learned a lot from that job, including the importance of hard work. There really wasn’t any shortcut to delivering 500 advertising circulars—you just had to be out there doing it. I also learned the importance of being dependable. You couldn’t just decide not to do it next week, because there were plenty of other middle-schoolers who’d be happy to have the money if you weren’t going to do a reliable job.
I gained a lot of respect for anyone who works hard, takes care of their obligations and doesn’t necessarily get much recognition. Our community is full of them. A lot of people we provide food to here at the food bank are those kinds of people, who are working darn hard to provide for their families. I think some of my sense of responsibility to people like that comes from experiences like my first job.