As told by Volker Kromm, Executive Director of the Regional Food Distribution Association:
There are many corners of our region that I will never see, or hear of, or even wonder if they exist. Yet within these places, there live people that have countless stories; the type that can either elevate the soul to great heights, or more often melt the hardest heart.
I met Amelia the other day, as I was helping to deliver emergency food, in a little known village north of Ignace. In my work as the Executive Director of the RFDA, I feel it is important to understand the depth and breadth of poverty in Northwestern Ontario.
I speak often of the number of people that must resort to food banks in larger urban centres, like Thunder Bay. Fortunately, the public responds, as do the many organizations that feed, clothe and care for our neighbours. These services are vital, since the demand is indeed growing and access is becoming more fractured and complex.
I heard of Amelia by chance, referred by a compassionate person that lives in the village named Liz. Besides the administrative duties and serving the 20 or so students at the school, Liz also finds time for the residents that have fallen through the gaps of the social fabric in her dwindling community. I am certain that kindness is simply one of her innate qualities – sharing her gifts with those much less fortunate.
Amelia lives in a small log cabin, without the conveniences that we take for granted: plumbing, electricity, proper windows, or even home insulation. The space she shares with her adult son is equipped with a wood stove (their only source of heat) which is also used for preparing food in traditional ways. We delivered a few bags of fresh produce bought from a local Thunder Bay farmer, along with basic donated staples and canned goods to ward off hunger.
Upon arriving at her home I realized that we faced a more immediate physical hurdle. Amelia and her son had no firewood to burn, nor the resources to repair their broken chainsaw, or the means to go out into the forest to gather wood. They are both dealing with a litany of health challenges stemming from addictions, malnourishment, frailties of advancing age, and limited mobility.
Amelia is a mere wisp of a woman confined to her bed for the most part, suffering from repeated falls and, I suspect, other not so apparent afflictions. Yet during our visit she smiled broadly, laughed, spoke lovingly, and was openly appreciative of our visit and the offers to help. Amelia sat all the while trembling like a leaf from the cold. We wrapped her blanket around her and gave her woolen mittens and a hat, distributed after donations were made at the local school. It may appear that we were in the right place that day.
There are many other Amelias that you and I may never hear about. Last winter she froze her feet after an exposure episode, was hospitalized, and then released herself, being anxious to be home.
I commend the regional health authorities for their role as the vital health links to these invisible people, that have no voice, and lack a vibrant community around them. As an outcome of this experience, we have resolved to carry extra blankets, clothing, and food when visiting our forgotten neighbours. I will look for a functioning chainsaw and even carry a few sticks of wood in my truck – enough to take the edge off the cold, make some tea, and soften some vegetables so they can be eaten without dentures.
We are collectively blessed by the many individuals and organizations, like the Mary Berglund Community Health Centre, that extend their umbrella of care into every nook and cranny of the hinterlands. Intuitively, we know that we are stronger together if each does a small part. I am repeatedly humbled by what can be done by so few.
I am rarely prepared to see the ravages of poverty, misfortune, and life’s harsh circumstances. It is important to communicate a few of these stories. Otherwise we will continue to rely solely on the instincts and training of too few professionals and the selfless commitment of volunteers, like Liz.
I have a photo of Amelia to remind me of the importance of generosity and caring. My current calling happens to be the most difficult job that I have ever had, yet one that I embrace willingly. I am also not naïve to think that any of us should be acting alone, or that our charity is always welcome, or that someone will always ask for assistance. It is important though, to always stand ready.
Amelia’s strength inspires me. The conditions she must endure haunt me daily. Shelter, warmth, clothing, food, health care, and the simplest supports for those times when we cannot walk alone should not be too much to ask.
The next time when opportunity does knock, I will be bold enough to ask business leaders, politicians, and countless generous individuals to be giving. It is the members and affiliates of the RFDA that do so much more than just give out food. I would like to be more like them.