By Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
Canadian Blood Services Volunteer Co-ordinator Sylvia Anderson reminded me of April’s significance when she called to ask if I could work a four-hour volunteer shift. April is both Daffodil Month, when the Canadian Cancer Society raises funds and awareness for the fight against cancer, and the month that coincides with National Volunteer Week, from April 15—21.
As we talked, I wondered: who are all these people donating hours, days, years, to assorted volunteer organizations? Do they have nothing else to do? And why did they choose their particular organization?
When I asked Anderson, she replied with a question for me. “Do you know that only one in 60 Canadians donated last year?” she asked.
The statistic shocks her, she said, as according to Canadian Blood Services (CBS), about half of all Canadians are eligible to donate. That’s one reason she volunteers.
Anderson went on to remind me that it can take up to 50 donors to help save one person seriously injured in a car accident, that one donation can potentially save four lives, and that new babies, young moms and cancer sufferers were receiving blood transfusions across the country as we spoke.
How many cardiovascular and leukemia patients have we both known who needed multiple blood donations? A friend fighting cancer, who recently required a transfusion, sprung to mind.
When I asked Sheila French, my Langley volunteer shift co-ordinator, why she volunteers and donates, she recalled, “When I was 11, I watched my mom being taken by ambulance to the hospital 30 miles away. She had been hemorrhaging all night and required eight pints of blood to be stabilized.”
“In Ontario, at that time, blood transfusions had to be repaid in kind or in cash,” she said. “Dad was unable to find eight donors, so dollars it was. That caused some family arguments when Mom came home ten days later!”
A blood donor since the age of 19, French’s extensive volunteering resumé includes serving as a Red Cross “phoner,” a reception area hostess, and, currently, the volunteer team leader and scheduler for Langley Canadian Blood Services clinics.
At a recent CBS clinic, French was impressed to meet four people who had donated more than 100 times. Two others had logged more than 200 donations. “Their loyalty, stories, and matter-of-factness about their achievements was so refreshing,” said French. “It’s in you to give in one way or another — so why not give!”
Cancer de Mama Clinic
Some local volunteers give their time in more international efforts. Take, for example, snowbirds Jean Hutchinson and Sandy Archer, who winter annually with their husbands in Guayabitos, Mexico.
A local newsletter and website inspired them to volunteer at the Cancer de Mama Clinic in La Penita, about 30 miles north of Puerto Vallarta.
Jackie Jackson, a Canadian breast cancer survivor, established the clinic after discovering how little help was available to Mexican women facing the same trauma she had experienced.
Before their departure for Mexico this year, Archer and Hutchinson challenged friends and family to help fill a suitcase with new or gently used bras, scarves and costume jewellery to support the cause.
“The three-day clinic is held each February,” said Archer, explaining that it depends solely on 200 dedicated volunteers and donations.
“Little pink cubicles staffed by qualified personnel are set up for privacy,” Hutchinson said. The initial consultation can be daunting for local women as well as those who bused in from distant villages.
One particularly nervous woman waiting her turn for a fitting caught Archer’s attention, prompting her to spend a few extra minutes reassuring her.
Soon both Archer and Hutchinson were rewarded by seeing their new friend emerge from her consultation wreathed in smiles and renewed confidence after being fitted with a prosthetic bra. A flattering wig, a dab of makeup, an elegant scarf, and lunch resulted in friendships all round.
“Volunteers supply kindness, smiles, laughter, hugs, and empathy in a comfortable, dignified environment,” said Archer, proudly reporting that more than 400 Mexican breast cancer survivors received a new lease on life this year thanks to the three-day clinic.
“Volunteering allows us to connect and help others,” says Archer. “I believe this makes the world a better place.”
The next clinic is February 1-3, 2019. For more information, visit cancerdemamaclinic.com.
Heritage at home
Back in Surrey, the need for volunteers never wanes. As one of Canada’s fastest growing cities, Surrey has an active volunteer database.
Sue Sanderson, Surrey’s heritage services volunteer co-ordinator, explained, “Volunteers help my staff colleagues deliver engaging programs which celebrate Surrey’s history and diversity. They often draw on their own historical knowledge which enhances program planning.”
When surveyed, heritage volunteers listed “giving back to community” as their number one reason for volunteering. They also cited social connections and love of history.
“Longtime Surrey residents often provide us with facts and historical information insights we might not otherwise have known about,” said Sanderson. “Their help and commitment allow the City of Surrey to serve more people and offer increased public programming. Volunteers are wonderful community ambassadors.”
Jerrilin Spence, curator of the Historic Stewart Farm, said, “Volunteers help us to bring this site to life. Many have formed new friendships. One has been been with us since we first opened to the public over 25 years ago.”
Volunteer gardeners tend the site’s heritage vegetable and flower gardens. In fact, Spence and Anderson would be delighted to hear from anyone interested in joining the garden team, or education volunteers interested in delivering weekday heritage school programs. For information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Look for some intriguing travel volunteer stories in my next column. If you have a volunteer tale to tell please let me know at email@example.com.
Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is the founding editor of the Cloverdale Reporter.