Pelham Cares' “Hamper Crew” of Bill Hughes, Daphne Faris, Ross McCarthy, and Jane Gilmour. DON RICKERS

National Volunteer Week runs April 18-24, with its 2021 theme being “The Value of One, The Power of Many,” which reflects the acts of kindness by millions of dedicated individuals working together towards a common purpose.

Jennifer Dubé, Coordinator of Client Services at Pelham Cares, noted that the past year has presented communities with emergency lockdowns, job losses, business and service closures, and online learning stressors for students and families. She said that the contributions of Pelham Cares volunteers have been invaluable throughout the pandemic, with some 40 volunteers contributed close to 4,000 hours of service, including 17,000 kilometres driven to transport seniors and those in need to medical appointments. Their annual food drive involved 300 volunteers in shifts over five weeks.

“It is so hard to highlight just one volunteer, since we have dozens that have dedicated their time through the entire pandemic,” said Dubé. But one who certainly deserves recognition is Jane Gilmour.

Since 2006, Gilmour has been the Pelham Cares board member who coordinates food services for the organization, ensuring that the shelves are fully stocked to fill the grocery hampers that are distributed to Pelham residents in need. She moved to Pelham in 1980, and started as a Pelham Cares volunteer in 1999, primarily with the Christmas food drive.

“When I retired in 2000, I decided to get more involved,” she said.

Gilmour’s spirit of giving back to the community is a family trait.

“Volunteerism was instilled in me by my father, who always served with a lot of organizations,” said Gilmour. “I guess, in part, I volunteer to honour his memory. But mainly, I just have the urge to help. And Pelham Cares is certainly a worthwhile organization, with amazing volunteers. I always say that we get more out of it than we contribute. It’s a heartwarming experience.”

Approximately 70 local families are registered with the food bank at Pelham Cares, said Gilmour, although at this point 43 families collect a monthly hamper containing a two-week supply of canned and packaged goods. Almost all of the registrants access the Christmas hamper prepared in December.

“Just the thought of families going without food and toys at Christmas…it’s heartbreaking,” said Gilmour.

She applauded Fonthill’s volunteer firefighters for continuing to lead the annual Christmas toy drive, which involves collecting and wrapping toy packages for under-privileged children.

“They do a magnificent job. And with the leftover toys, we’ve been able to operate a birthday room, so children can receive a present on their special day.”

Even in a municipality considered “upscale” by many in the region, Pelham still has pockets of low-income families and seniors on fixed pensions that require assistance, plus those who have suffered job loss during the pandemic shutdowns.

“We’ve had a rise in emergency orders—people that are forced to choose between either paying their rent, or buying groceries for their family. We are worried it’s going to become a trend, because of COVID, and all the strain that it’s put on people’s finances.”

Accessing the food bank is a painless process, said Gilmour, and there is absolutely no judgement involved.

“The ones I often worry about are those too proud to come and ask for help, it just wasn’t the way they were brought up. It’s especially sad this year, because there are a lot of seniors living alone, trying to do the right thing, staying away from other people. Their families can’t visit them, and I know some are going downhill, emotionally and physically. We certainly try to be there for them, providing food, free rides for medical appointments, and referring them to local services.”

Gilmour emphasized that the ongoing generous support of Pelham Cares by individuals, businesses, and service organizations was critical.

“We couldn’t do anything without the assistance of the community,” she said.