Posted on 08 August 2012 by Keith Lacey
The woman who manages the Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP) for the Canadian Red Cross in the South Okanagan says she was left with no choice but to close the Osoyoos depot last week after repeated attempts to recruit volunteers were unsuccessful.
Marie McKierman, the co-ordinator of the HELP program in the South Okanagan, said the depot that operated out of a small room in the upper floor of the Sonora Community Centre in Osoyoos is closed for good and all equipment and services will now be offered out of an expanded depot in Oliver.
“Unfortunately, we’ve made the decision to close the depot in Osoyoos because it got to the point where we had a really difficult time getting volunteers,” she said. “I’ve spent a lot of time at numerous volunteer fairs trying my best to try and get volunteers to help run the depot and it just proved very difficult.”
The HELP depot in Osoyoos loaned out medical equipment, including canes, walkers, crutches, bathing aids and more.
When longtime volunteer Charlotte Sanktjohanser announced she would no longer be available to help run the depot after 27 years of dedicated service and no other volunteers could be found, a decision was made to close down the depot in Osoyoos and move it to Oliver, said McKierman.
Sanktjohanser was assisted by Maureen Schofield, who is physically and mentally challenged, over the past five years.
In an interview with the Osoyoos Times last week, Sanktjohanser said her failing health left her with no choice but to announce she would no longer be able to volunteer her time and she was very disappointed a decision had been made to close the Osoyoos HELP depot.
“I’ve been trying to find volunteers to help me out at this place for many years, but no one seems willing to come forward and help out,” she said. “I hate to leave, but I’ve put in 27 years of dedicated service and I’ve really enjoyed it, but it’s time for somebody else to take over. I did this because I believe in the program and because it helped so many people. It would be a crying shame if all the seniors who use this depot here in Osoyoos would have to travel all the way to Oliver.”
McKierman said Sanktjohanser has been “a saint” and is an amazing woman who poured her heart and soul into volunteering her services to run the depot for close to three decades.
In 2011, Sanktjohanser was honoured as Osoyoos’ Volunteer of the Year for her dedicated commitment to the HELP depot.
With an expanded HELP depot in Oliver and the lack of volunteers from Osoyoos, the decision was made several weeks ago to close the Osoyoos depot, said McKierman.
“We tried to get volunteers for over three years … it wasn’t for lack of trying,” she said. “We certainly did try and asked numerous groups for more than three years and we didn’t have any success.”
But Osoyoos Mayor Stu Wells wasn’t buying what McKierman was trying to sell.
“I’m very very disappointed with this decision,” he said. “It’s not fair to this community at all and it’s unfair to all the seniors in this community who have been using that depot for many years.
“If she says she has been trying hard for three years to try and recruit volunteers, I would have a hard time believing that as I’ve never seen her in town putting in the efforts she’s talking about.”
Wells said he will be bringing this matter up before members of town council at its next meeting in two weeks to see if there is any way to reverse this decision and try and bring the depot back to Osoyoos.
“How can we expect our seniors, many of them who don’t drive, to get out to Oliver to access the Red Cross facility there?” he asked.
Wells believes this decision was made too quickly once Sanktjohanser announced she would no longer be able to volunteer her time to run the depot.
“I’m positive the Town of Osoyoos could find enough volunteers to step forward to staff that place … I would really hope so anyway because so many of our seniors used that depot on a regular basis,” said Wells. “I personally hadn’t heard a single thing about the depot possibly closing until a couple of weeks ago.
“I think the decision to close it was made in just the last couple of weeks and that certainly didn’t give us enough time to try and find some people to come forward and volunteer. I think it’s very unfair, especially after the great many number of years that place has been open and providing a valuable service to the people of this community. I would have expected better treatment.”
McKierman said the Oliver depot, located at 6129 Kootenay St., is run by a large group of dedicated volunteers and a recent expansion will allow for much more equipment to be stored and loaned out to people from Oliver and Osoyoos.
“There is no trouble at all with volunteers at the Oliver centre and with the recent expansion we have all kinds of room, so this was a good business decision,” she said.
Maureen Schofield’s mother Trudi said her daughter loved her volunteer position at the depot and is very disappointed she won’t be able to work there anymore.
“They came in and moved all the equipment out and then I knew it was a done deal,” she said.
The saddest part of this decision is the depot was very busy and many seniors used it on a regular basis, she said.
Her daughter is “bitterly disappointed” she won’t be able to volunteer her time at the depot any longer, she said.
“She is a challenged person, but this was something she could do and she poured her heart and soul into that place,” she said. “She was very faithful and wouldn’t miss a day unless it was absolutely necessary. She’s really going to miss being there and serving her regular customers.”