Help Centre volunteers keep the shelves stocked and the smiles big

Some of the core group of volunteers at the Manitoulin Help Centre gather for a photo.

MINDEMOYA—A sampling of the core group of 35 volunteers who keep the Manitoulin Help Centre in Mindemoya a bustling and viable go-to option for those in need of a helping hand (or open for a good deal on gently used items), sit in the board room of Manitoulin Family Resources eager to share why it is they enjoy giving of their time to this special cause.

Volunteers Marg Elliott, Bernice Lewis, Joan Ralph, Sally Cox, Nan Buie, Judy Duncan and Linda Allen are accompanied by Nancy McDermid, Help Centre project manager, and Katie Arsenault, project manager assistant.

Marg Elliot explained that she finds it important to volunteer her time at the Help Centre, which encompasses the food bank, the food hamper program and Treasurer’s Thrift Shop, because she once found herself in a position of needing these services and this is her way to give back. She said she likes to volunteer her services as a driver, but working at the food bank is the most important of tasks for her.

[pullquote]“It’s not good to be hungry,” Ms. Elliott said. “I also work at the school (Central Manitoulin Public School) breakfast program. I like to feed people, I guess,” she added, noting that this was instilled in her by her mother and grandmother.[/pullquote]

Sally Cox explained that she retired from supply teaching and was looking to get involved in her community. Helen Wark, a long-time Manitoulin Family Resources (MFR) volunteer, inspired her to join the team of volunteers. And when Ms. Cox isn’t volunteering her time, she just can’t stay away, her fellow volunteers joked, often stopping by to say ‘hi’ to her new friends at the Help Centre and Treasures.

“I work mostly Saturdays and I like the contact with the people,” Ms. Cox enthused. “I love it when they come in and say ‘this is my favourite store’.”

Linda Allen said she works mostly Tuesday and Wednesday nights. “It’s just like ‘Cheers’,” she laughed, referencing the place where ‘everybody knows your name.’ “People come in and share their stories—it’s a fun place to be and to get to know people.”

The women talked about the social aspect of their volunteer work, for both themselves and the senior citizens who come in to browse at Treasures. Sometimes a smiling face and a little conversation is all they really need.

“I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people and it’s important the community knows that we help in other ways too,” Linda Allen said. She recounted a story of guests of the Auberge Inn Hostel in Providence Bay. The Help Centre had donated pairs of used skates to the Providence Bay arena, which the visitors to Manitoulin were able to use, skating for the first time. “They said it was the highlight of their trip to Canada,” Ms. Allen said proudly.

She explained that through the Help Centre and Treasures, donations of clothing, bedding, household items and food are also made to those who have lost their homes and possessions to fire. Books that find their way into Treasures are also repurposed through donations to the Mindemoya Library, the public school and will also be used to add children’s books to food hampers of families with young children.

They sang the praises of Howard and Aili McDonald too. Howard volunteers his time unraveling knitted sweaters, re-knitting them into mittens and sweaters that are then sold as a fundraiser for the Help Centre. Mr. McDonald also makes birdhouses and ‘rag bags’ too with the funds from the sale also donated back to MFR.

The fact that Mr. McDonald is a tall gentleman is also extremely helpful around the food bank and Treasures, the women laughed. He’s often put to work to stack shelves.

“Everything that comes into the Help Centre gets used in some way and all needs to be sorted,” Ms. Allen said. “And this is big, heavy work.”

The Expositor spoke with volunteer Betty Bardswich as well, who takes on much of the organizational work for extra fundraising initiatives, hosting the summer yard sale on her property. Instead of talking about her role in the organization, Ms. Bardswich spoke highly of fellow volunteers Kathy Size, Koki Maloney, Brenda Boyle, the McDonalds, Bonnie Pegelo and her own family, each doing their part to make sure that the Help Centre and Treasures thrives and grows.

Treasures is staffed by three volunteers in the winter months and six in the summer.

“It’s a busy job,” they said.

“It’s not just for people who need things, it’s for everyone who likes to shop,” Ms. Allen continued.

“There are brand new clothes and designer clothes too,” Judy Duncan added.

The volunteers of MFR also take on the extra responsibilities of setting up and organizing yard sales, luncheons, craft sales, golf tournaments, fish fries, running raffles and sewing quilts too, all in aid of raising cash for the Help Centre building fund, which is nearing its final stages. The building fund currently sits at $202,000 “thanks largely to the volunteers, community and United Way” over nine years.

Groundbreaking for the new Help Centre will happen this spring, 27 years after the portable was set up to house the food bank in 1991.

Nancy McDermid explained that the need for food hampers is on the rise, making the volunteers’ job all the more important. On average, the volunteers will put together 85 hampers each month for 265 individuals—that’s up 75 percent in three years. High heating bills in the winter means people need more help, Ms. McDermid explained.

“Any monetary donations would be greatly appreciated,” Ms. Elliott added.

“It’s just a great bunch of people to work for and with,” Ms. Duncan said.

“Every day has different people and different dynamics,” added Nan Buie. “The day you get someone in who needs a food basket and they say ‘you guys are angels, thank you so much,’ all your aches and pains just disappear.”

“It’s nice to see the smiles on people’s faces as they leave the store,” Ms. Duncan added.

To support the Treasures Thrift Store, or to utilize the Help Centre, the hours of operation are 10 am to 2 pm Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays and Wednesdays from 7 to 9 pm.

To make a donation to the Help Centre’s building fund, contact Ms. McDermid at 705-377-5532 ext. 242.