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Volunteers big part of big holiday initiatives in Barrie area 0

By Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner

Georgian College student and Barrie Out of the Cold volunteer Sasha Cadeau prepares a salad prior to the arrival of BOOTC clients at Collier Street United Church Sunday night. Hundreds of Barrie and area volunteers are making the holiday season a little brighter for the less fortunate.
IAN MCINROY/BARRIE EXAMINER/QMI AGENCY

Georgian College student and Barrie Out of the Cold volunteer Sasha Cadeau prepares a salad prior to the arrival of BOOTC clients at Collier Street United Church Sunday night. Hundreds of Barrie and area volunteers are making the holiday season a little brighter for the less fortunate. IAN MCINROY/BARRIE EXAMINER/QMI AGENCY

'Tis the season to give, and give thanks.

But for thousands of needy area families, single moms and dads, couples and singles, it's also a time to reach out when cash runs low and priorities change.

That's when an army of big-hearted people give of their time and talent to make a difference in someone's life.

More than 13.3 million volunteers in Canada contribute 2.1 billion hours of time every year, according to Volunteer Canada, and locally, area residents are also stepping up to help out.

Debra Exel sits on the board of directors for the Barrie Out of the Cold program and she acknowledges how important the approximately 1,000 volunteers are to the organization.

"Our entire organization at this time — board of directors as well as the leadership and volunteer base — is 100% volunteer," she said of the helpers who lend a hand at six Barrie churches to provide safe overnight accommodation and meals for the homeless from November to April.

"They give up their evenings (including weekends), stay awake all night if they are on the overnight shift, or get up very early to be on time for the 6 a.m. morning shift," Exel said.

"It's not easy sometimes to leave a warm cozy house or bed on a bitter cold winter night to come in and volunteer," she added. "I think for many, there is a deep compassion to help those who are less fortunate, to serve their community and because volunteerism is a personal value for them."

One of the most visible group of volunteers to the general public are the dedicated people who ring the bells at Salvation Army kettle locations across the region.

Almost 400 volunteers are working the kettles to reach the Salvation Army Barrie Bayside Mission's goal of $450,000, according to kettle co-ordinator retired Maj. Flo Sharple.

"I love this job," she said of peoples' eagerness to help. "There is a large cross-section of people. They are just a lot of very ordinary people. Many work during the day and volunteer at night or on weekends. Some are students or high school students working on their community hours."

The Bayside Mission's Maj. Byron Kean said other volunteers help out with day-to-day operations at the 16 Bayfield St. facility.

"There's a whole spectrum (of people) we're trying to get," he said.

"We've approached organizations for volunteers to serve and prepare meals. It creates camaraderie amongst the employees (or organization members) and bridges the gap between the Salvation Army and our residents, the community and businesses," he said, adding sometimes residents upstairs in the mission's transition room also help out.

"It gives them a sense that they're helping us help them get through this difficult period of their lives," Kean said. "And we always have individuals who go through our services we provide and when they get back on their feet, want to give back and volunteer with us."

Over at Barrie Food Bank, 120 regular weekly volunteers sort food, break down food from large packaging to smaller packages, stock shelves, pick grocery orders for clients and serve clients with their order. They also drive around the city picking up food from grocery stores, farmers, businesses, churches and schools.

"In addition to our regular volunteers, we have another 300 occasional volunteers who assist with food drives and food sorts as well as run food and fundraising events such as the 12 Ladies in a Tent event," said Barrie Food Bank executive director Peter Sundborg.

"Volunteers are crucial to the success and continued operation of the food bank. We have a small staff who rely on the good work of our volunteers. Many of our regular volunteers donate three to five hours a week to help us out, giving up their time away from their families and some from work."

The 37th annual Barrie and District Christmas Cheer toy and food drive will also rely heavily on its massive crowd of giving volunteers, according to volunteer co-ordinator Paul Rooney.

"At Christmas Cheer, everything we do is dependant on the great people in Barrie and the surrounding area," he said. "Without their time, in either making a donation or by stopping by to help us out, none of what we do would be possible."

For the couple months leading up to Christmas, organizers have a core group of board members and dedicated volunteers who start getting everything set up around town. Six or eight weeks prior to Santa's arrival, schools, businesses and drop-off locations are finalized and then it's crunch time.

"Once we get to the week before Christmas, that's when things really start to shape up. We need to receive, sort, organize and get ready to distribute enough food and toys for over 1,700 families," Rooney said.

"We are in need of over 800 volunteers to help us do this and I am overwhelmed with the response I have received so far," he added. "Of the 800 positions we needed filled, 700 of them have been signed up. Residents in this area are truly amazing people."

ian.mcinroy@sunmedia.ca

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