After closures and limited access due to the pandemic, volunteers from the Belleville General Hospital (BGH), Trenton Memorial Hospital (TMH), Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital (PECMH) and North Hastings Hospital (NHH) Auxiliaries are returning to doing what they love.
"During the pandemic I've missed coming to the hospital terribly," said Paul Hamelin, volunteer on BGH Sills 3. "I'm extremely happy to be back. It's one of the most rewarding things I've ever done in my life. I get to meet people and see them get better, I just love this place and the staff are wonderful. They're extremely supportive."
Donalda Stapley, who volunteers in the TMH Gift Shop shared similar sentiments. "We enjoy volunteering, we meet lots of great people who come in. We really missed it when we couldn't come in." Eleanor Davidson, who is down the hall at the TMH Coffee Bar, said, "I love the 7am shift, I'm a morning person and love the people."
Helen Hotston, an in-patient volunteer at PECMH, shared how she had lost her husband over a year ago and how volunteering was something that's kept her busy. "I was at home, so I'm happy to be back with people here. I'm thrilled to be back."
During the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, many organizations were forced to pivot and find new ways to reach their memberships. The auxiliaries faced the same challenges.
"COVID forced our hand to learn new strategies for communicating with our membership," said Cathy Starkey, President of the PECMH Auxiliary. "Several times during the year, we would have a short newsletter and a message from the President on our status, all sent by e-blast to our membership. Yours truly learned how to Zoom, a talent I never thought I could master."
"We couldn't hold our strawberry social or our bazaar," said Arlene La Rosa, President of the TMH Auxiliary, "so we ran an online auction for the auxiliary last year and raised over $3000!"
"We were afraid of losing some due to being out of sight, out of mind, during the pandemic," said Leah Johnson, President of the BGH Auxiliary. "We kept in touch as much as possible with newsletters, phone calls and Zoom meetings. There are some that are hesitant to return due to health reasons, but most people are coming back and we're thrilled."
At the auxiliary-run community thrift shops, business has never been better after re-opening, and the volunteers have been busy. This group of dedicated volunteers may be active outside of the hospital, but they are an integral part of the volunteer team, raising thousands of dollars each year in support of QHC hospitals.
Glenna Armstrong, President of North Hastings District Hospital Auxiliary and Convenor of the New To You shop in Bancroft, shared how the influx of people moving into the area meant that, "business has been booming this past summer. We've never seen the sales and the number of people in like we did this past summer. The volunteers were thrilled to be back and we're getting new volunteers as well."
Pamela Strachan, Manager of the Second Time Around Auxiliary shop in Picton, was equally excited about the recent successes of the shop. "Thanks to an amazing year, the Auxiliary just fulfilled its $1 million pledge to Back the Build for a new PECM Hospital. People in the community know when they buy an item from the shop, it's for the hospital, so they're very generous."
She was quick to credit the success of the store to the volunteers. "We couldn't do it without the amazing volunteers. Most of the volunteers are retired, they love the people. People love them as well, they bring us flowers and goodies to say thank you. It's a very nice atmosphere, it's a community atmosphere."
Belleville's Opportunity Shop Convenor, Doreen Cook, was happy to be back in business as well. "We had a lot of bags to sort through when we came in, but after opening back up on October 1, we've finally caught up. We're always willing to help people in need, we have great people who volunteer."
With the vast majority of the auxiliary members of retirement age, there's a shared feeling among the members of wanting to help others with their available time, and enjoying the company of their fellow volunteers while doing it. "I actually get more back than I give," said Linda Bunnett from the Belleville Opportunity Shop. "It makes you feel good when you're helping people."
"We missed the customers, many who have been regulars over the years," said North Hastings District Hospital Auxiliary volunteer Trish Brooks. "It's like family."
Jay Moxness, QHC Volunteer Specialist, conveyed how unfailingly positive the volunteers have been. "They choose to be here, so they're always in a great mood, they're keen, they're hard working, they're dedicated, and they're always up for anything to help."
"It's an intangible thing, it's hard to describe, but the volunteers have an incredible impact on the people they come into contact with," said Jay. "It was really noticeable when they were gone. Staff were asking me daily when the volunteers were coming back."
With volunteers gradually returning, Jay encourages anyone who'd like to volunteer to visit the Auxiliary Volunteer section of the QHC website to get started. "Whether you volunteer at an Auxiliary Thrift Shop or Coffee Bar or in the Emergency or the Maternity departments, everyone has something that they bring to the table. Everyone has their own strengths that they bring."