Volunteers Bill Hughson and Colleen McCarthy sort through hampers at Pelham Cares last Friday morning. VOICE PHOTO

Organization also recognizes National Volunteer Week


Pelham Cares is celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2018, and considering that the week of April 15 is National Volunteer Week, coordinator Lori Grande called it a good opportunity to celebrate the birthday.

“The idea for Pelham Cares started way back in the 1980s,” said Grande. “The mayor at the time was asked by the Region if Pelham could have some sort of social service committee.”

Then-Mayor Eric Bergenstein solicited community involvement in the initiative, primarily from church groups in Pelham.

“The things suggested were very different from what Pelham Cares is today,” said Grande. “It recommended services such as visits with the lonely, running errands for people who need it, providing respite for parents or spouses who need it.”

Grande, who has been with Pelham Cares since 2014, said that it has evolved to fulfill mainly one of the original suggestions, to “provide food and other necessities” to people in need.

Even so, in 2017 Pelham Cares had 20 volunteers provide 388 medical-related drives within Niagara, and as far away as Toronto, covering 10,000 kilometres.

“A lot of that evolution was probably based on viability—on what’s possible,” said Grande.

As it currently exists, providing more than 500 food hampers per year, volunteers are the engine of the organization.

“We have about 50 registered volunteers, but in broader service during our December food drive we have up to 300,” said Grande.

Nancy Yungblut, a member of Pelham Cares’ board, said that when you include all the other people who indirectly help out, the number is in the thousands.

“There’s the Lions, the Lionesses, the Kinsmen, Rotary,” said Yungblut.

Grande said that the broad value that volunteering adds to the community is on her mind during the national week.

“It brings people together, and it really means something to have people contribute. Seniors who volunteer live longer, and the social interaction and sense of purpose adds so much,” said Grande.

Yungblut recollected a time when her 16-year-old grandson needed additional community service hours for high school and helped out at Pelham Cares to get them.

“There he was, a sixteen-year-old boy, very tall, helping out with the other volunteers, some of whom were eighty-plus,” she said.

Grande highlighted this diversity among volunteers, how some are new retirees and some have been helping out at the centre for 25 years.

Yungblut said also that because Pelham is relatively small, Pelham Cares is often the first place that people think of when they’re looking to get involved.

“We’re so blessed that we’re the first thought in people’s mind when they’re looking for something to do or to donate,” said Yungblut. “Our volunteers really like to cloak themselves, but we try to recognize them.”

“We’ll do something simple,” said Grande. “Put them up on our sign and give them a letter and a Tim’s card.”

Last Friday morning, as Grande and Yungblut gathered to talk about the anniversary and volunteer week, three of those volunteers were working away arranging the week’s hampers.

Keith Moore and Bill Hughson, both of whom have helped at Pelham Cares for more than a decade, and Colleen McCarthy, who has volunteered for more than two decades, all fussed when Grande tried to get them to pose for a picture.

“Do you have a paper bag?” asked Moore. “We could be the unknown volunteers.”

Grande laughed.

“You see?” she said. “They don’t want to be seen for what they do.”