A friendly smile can make all the difference in the world when you aren’t feeling well and are in unfamiliar surroundings.
The volunteers with the Lakeshore General Hospital Auxiliary give generously of their smiles. They also make scrambled eggs in the cafeteria, push the gift cart from room to room, change linens on the gurneys in the emergency room and make sure the right paperwork gets delivered to the proper authorities in a timely manner.
The 260-member auxiliary turns 50 this year. The volunteers, recognizable in their pale blue smocks, are an outgoing, cool, calm and collected bunch.
“I think, deep down inside, we all harbour the need to be needed and to help others,” auxiliary president Barbara Armbruster said.
Armbruster began volunteering in the hospital’s diabetic clinic after she retired from her career as a high school principal seven years ago.
“I worked all my adult life, so after I retired I was looking for something to do,” Armbruster said. “Volunteering here helped fill that void. You help make the place run more efficiently and the patients are so grateful. You feel good.”
Three years ago, volunteers were allowed to work in the emergency room for the first time.
One of the ER volunteers is Sally Brown. She first volunteered at the hospital in 1968 and has been a regular volunteer at the Gift Shop since 1992. She served as auxiliary president from 2004 to 2008.
“People in the emergency room are often very anxious,” Brown said. “Not knowing what is wrong is the worse thing to deal with. It’s our job to put them at ease. We bring them an extra blanket or a pillow. And a smile can be the best medicine.”
The auxiliary also puts together small care packages containing a tooth brush and hand-crocheted slippers with non-slip soles to give to people who are brought into emergency room in the middle of the night without their necessities.
Hospitals are full of sick and anxious people and that can be stressful for people working on the front lines, so volunteers can often be seen decompressing in the cafeteria after a shift.
“You learn to cope,” Armbruster said. “You learn to leave your home troubles at home to focus entirely on what is needed at the hospital and then you learn to leave the hospital behind when you go home.”
The Women’s Auxiliary, as it was called until it went coed in 1986, was established in 1963 with the mandate to run a gift shop, a coffee shop and a library in the new hospital, which opened in 1965.
The auxiliary has raised close to $3 million over the five decades. The money goes toward the purchase of new equipment for the hospital and bursaries for student nurses and nurses furthering their education. The auxiliary also donates funds to specific hospital departments in need. To learn more about volunteering for the Lakeshore General Hospital Auxiliary, call 514-630-2119.
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