Jane Gilmour’s many years of volunteer service with Pelham Cares were honoured at the agency’s annual volunteer recognition luncheon and 40th anniversary celebration at the Meridian Community Centre on Wednesday.
She began volunteering in December of 1999, helping out with the annual food drive and Christmas hampers, and driving clients to medical appointments. In 2006, Gilmour joined the Pelham Cares board, and stepped down just last year, having held roles as food services coordinator, vice president, and president.
“One thing all of our volunteers have in common is hearts filled with compassion for those we are serving,” she said. “It is not easy to walk through the doors of a food bank and ask for assistance.”
Gilmour said that without the support of the community — Town Council and staff, farmers, schools, churches, businesses, local service clubs, and individuals — Pelham Cares would not be able to offer its broad range of programs and services.
“There isn't a food bank out there that wouldn't be happy to close its doors and be put out of business,” she said. “Sadly, this isn't likely to happen anytime soon. The need has risen sharply since the pandemic. We all know that high cost of groceries as we shop for our own families. Imagine young families with children with limited income, having to make the decision whether to pay their rent or put food on the table for their family. Affordable housing is also a major concern. We have some families sharing living arrangements in order to make ends meet and provide a roof over their heads. Still others have resorted to living in their vehicles. There are so many sad situations out there, and we will continue to help in whatever way we are able.”
Pelham Cares president Greg Lewis told their guests in the Accursi Room that when it was founded four decades ago, the organization’s raison d’etre was driving people to medical appointments, grocery shopping, and other errands, not addressing food insecurity issues. The agency saw a 70 percent increase in new clients in 2022 over the previous year, and a 24 percent increase in visits to the food bank. Youth subsidies increased by 54 percent during the same period. Between April 2022 and April 2023, new clients to the food bank increased by 400 percent, and overall visits to the site by 49 percent.
“When Covid-19 hit, everything changed,” said Lewis. “The one thing that didn't change was the need for our services. We really had to re-invent ourselves. Covid accelerated changes that otherwise might have taken ten years to realize. We still meet the demands of our clients, and in fact that demand is growing like crazy.”
Pelham Cares commenced operation in 1983, spearheaded by then-Mayor Eric Bergenstein and a group of citizens from local churches and service organizations. The first food drive was held in 1990, led by local businessman Gerry Berkhout, who ran the event for 25 years.
In 2014, the organization found a new home at 191 Hwy 20 East in Fonthill, allowing it to better store and distribute food and other supplies. In 2022, Pelham Cares joined Feed Niagara, a group of ten Niagara food banks sharing resources and adhering to strict health and safety standards.
Lewis introduced a new logo for the organization, saying that “we really think it reflects the energy of today's volunteers. We felt a tagline was important to explain succinctly what it is that we offer: food, support, and hope. Countless clients have said to us, ‘thank you for giving me hope.’ That’s what we wanted to reflect in our new brand.”
For more information about Pelham Cares, and opportunities to volunteer and donate, go to www.pelhamcares.org.