The donations just keep coming, ensuring those in need in Niagara-the-Lake are being cared for this holiday season.
It’s a busy time for a group of dedicated volunteers who ensure those who are struggling to make ends meet in town are looked after, with food and gifts.
The number of those in need, families, couples and individuals has increased from recent years, but there is still more than enough for all those who have registered for help at Christmas.
Last Friday, the NOTL Gives Back campaign wrapped up, with about 20 to 30 vehicles using a drive-through drop-off for generous donations to Newark Neighbours, but that was just one example of a very giving community.
More than 40 individuals, groups, residents’ associations and other organizations have dropped off food and
gifts, says Cindy Grant, Newark Neighbours food bank manager.
And then there are the unique gifts: hand-knitted hats and scarves, quilts from the Cornerstone Church quilting group, and about 20
original oil paintings from a local artist.
Ruffino’s Pasta Bar & Grill has donated gift cards, the Royal Canadian Legion has provided vouchers for their fish and chips dinner, and the local schools have donated “an enormous” amount of food, says Grant.
Walker’s Country Market is donating 50 home-made pies — they come warm, straight out of the oven; Dave Dick of Niagara Motors has donated 15 turkeys, and Alitura Fine Foods and Market has donated 20 hams.
St. Andrew’s and St. Mark’s Churches were also generous with donations; Steve Hardaker of St. Davids-Queenston United Church dropped off food as well as mittens, gloves, hats and scarves collected as part of their White Gift Sunday appeal; and King’s Point residents also collected a huge amount of food.
And then there are the donations dropped off at the Candlelight Stroll. “Oh my gosh,” says Grant, “I really wasn’t sure what kind of a turn-out they’d get, but it took four of us to unload what they brought in a van.”
The generosity of donations this year “has been overwhelming,” she said, and not just the quantity, but the quality of
Newark Neighbours has 48 homes to visit with deliveries, with 140 people to receive food, including a ham or turkey, and gifts for adults and kids. If there is one thing Newark still needs, it would be a few more turkeys, says Grant.
The store is closing this Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. to give volunteers time to organize the food and gifts Thursday, to be delivered Friday. The food bank and thrift store will remain closed until Jan. 4.
When Grant speaks of the number of people who have donated to Newark, and the number of volunteers who will have had a part in seeing the food and gifts delivered to those in need, she says, “it truly takes a village.”
And when the volunteers get back to work in January, it will be time to start thinking about a new space for Newark Neighbours.
With a 50-year history of serving Niagara-on-the-Lake residents, it has far outgrown its current space, and in November, reached out to the community about the need for a new location and space to better serve their growing needs. There is a wish list of needs to be met, says Grant, including 2,000-plus square feet in space, ground floor accessibility, privacy for food clients, and running water.
They have had some offers of help, she says, and by getting the word out that they need more space, and getting people thinking, they may have potential locations to consider.
They will likely have to fundraise, but first they want an idea of possible locations, and what they will need to do, such as building a new home, or purchasing modular units.
“We just wanted to get the word out that we’re looking for ideas, and potential solutions” she said.
When Grant got a phone call from Newark Neighbours in the summer of 2020 about the immediate need for someone to take over management of the food bank, she said yes without hesitation.
“It was a summer afternoon, I was a little bored, and I thought, ‘how hard can it be’?” says Grant.
“Project management is what I know. It’s what I did for most of my career.”
She moved to NOTL 12 years ago from Toronto in semi-retirement, after a career in health care administration, and then in consulting, which allowed her to work part-time from home and commute to Toronto three days a week.
Once completely retired, she stepped up her volunteerism, and Newark Neighbours is not the only organization that benefits from her skills.
She is chair of the town’s health and wellness committee, which released a report to the town with a list of prioritized improvements and recommendations on how to achieve them. In January, Grant says, the committee will meet again, “re-energized and reactivated,” with a focus on moving forward on those recommendations.
Grant is also chair of the board of the Niagara North Family Health Team — very much a governance role, not operational, she stresses —and is on the board of the NOTL Community Palliative Care Service, serving as its treasurer.
And along another avenue, education in the interest of health, Grant is working with Terry Mactaggart and Dr. Larry Chambers to present the Learn & Live program, an initiative that arose from one of the recommendations in the town’s Community Wellness Committee’s report to council.
The series presents a curriculum of themed seminars and discussion groups around a variety of topics delivered over a period of several months, in small groups gathered in the rotunda of the NOTL Public Library. There were three sessions in the fall, now available on the library’s Youtube site, and the three organizers are beginning to plan the program for 2022. It is likely to include series about the environment and climate change; Indigenous issues; bereavement, grief and loss; and music therapy, organized with the “fantastic help” of the library’s community engagement coordinator Debbie Krause.
There is a saying, attributed to a variety of people — if you want something done, ask a busy person, and that’s certainly true of Grant.
While her priority for this week is ensuring those in need will be cared for at this time of year, there is more ahead for the busy volunteer who spends so much of her time dedicated to looking after the health and wellness of NOTL residents.
“I need to do this,” she explains. She needs to be busy in retirement, and involved in society. Spending her days just “going out” without purpose would bore her to tears. “This is the stuff I need to do now. I’ve worked for well over 40 years, and during that time, I didn’t have much of a chance to give back. This is my time, my chance to give back to the community I live in.”
And the community she loves, she adds. “I enjoy the work, and this is an awesome community.”