Big Hearts

Big Hearts2
Two women, two big hearts, thousands of hours Jackie Tomchak and Velma McClelland have a combined contribution of 55 years, 33,000 hours as Sault Area Hospital volunteers ~ Submitted By Darren Taylor

Sault Area Hospital (SAH) has a dedicated group of over 530 volunteers, each dedicating his or her time and talents, directly or indirectly helping the many Sault and area people in need of medical treatment. Jackie Tomchak and Velma McClelland are two members of that stellar group of 530 volunteers.

Jackie has dedicated 31 years and 11 months of her time to SAH, which amounts to 11,790 volunteer hours. Jackie is a retired Sault Area Hospital employee, who started off volunteering in 1986 at the former General site’s volunteer office, coordinating the activities of other volunteers. Having laid the groundwork, that job is now a responsibility for a paid SAH employee.

Volunteering one day a week quickly turned to five days a week for Jackie. Jackie’s early days as a volunteer included various duties, such as taking patients to Sunday morning church services held within the hospital and helping people in palliative care. She now spends much of her volunteer time helping SAH cancer patients undergoing treatment. One cancer patient in particular, now deceased, stands out in Jackie’s memory. “She was young, a teacher, and I got to be really close to her. She was a knitter, and I like to knit so we would sit and talk. She always came in by herself, that was something that really bothered me,” Jackie said. “I watched her get better and then get worse, and the final day she came in I was with her. She was such a nice, nice person, and that (her illness and passing away) really got to me.”

Chemotherapy patients often come in to SAH alone for treatment, said Jackie, a widowed mother and grandmother. “If I see there’s no one sitting with them, I’ll grab a chair and sit and talk with them,” Jackie said. “When they’re in there (for chemotherapy), we bring them warm blankets, make coffee for them and bring them lunch, like sandwiches, juice and a pudding.” “Patients who come in to see a doctor have to answer questions on a computerized questionnaire, and the majority of people, especially if it’s their first time, are very nervous and they don’t want to go near a computer, so that’s my job. I help them answer the questions, be friendly and help them feel as comfortable as possible,”

Jackie said, looking on her volunteer work at SAH as her way of leaving a legacy. “My children and grandchildren will use this hospital.” “I find it rewarding. I like to give back. I’ve received so much in my life time, I want to give back,” Jackie said.

Velma began volunteering 24 years and one month ago at the old Sault Area Hospital’s Plummer site. In terms of hours served as a SAH volunteer, Velma holds the record at 22,130 hours. Her volunteer duties began with helping patients get ready for surgery by providing them with gowns and bringing them refreshments after surgery. Velma was instrumental in opening the coffee kiosks in the old SAH Plummer and General sites, becoming treasurer for both kiosks, also having served as treasurer for the Sault Area Hospital Volunteer Association (SAHVA), as well as helping out in the gift shop and orthopaedic clinic.

“Right now our biggest thing is fundraising for equipment,” Velma said, stating SAHVA is currently planning this year’s Classic Car and Bike Show fundraiser event for the hospital. This summer will mark the third Classic Car and Bike Show, in which car owners pay to display their cars at the event, with 50/50 tickets, food and entertainment also on hand. “Fundraising is a challenge, but it’s fun,” Velma said.

As a fundraiser, Velma helped the volunteers reach their goal of raising $200,000 for a new CT Scanner for SAH (total cost of which was pegged at $2.2 million). “It’s fulfilling for me, I Iove it. I love helping and we need equipment,” Velma said, realizing many of us will need access to SAH medical staff and hi-tech equipment such as CT Scanners at some point in life.

Velma has also helped distribute hats for children and comfort dolls for patients who are suffering from anxiety and/or dementia when they arrive at SAH for treatment. Velma, like Jackie, is a widowed mother and grandmother, and is an Ontario Hydro retiree.

A volunteer recognition dinner held by SAH in December honoured volunteers who have donated as much as 35 years of service to the hospital. They received newly introduced honour pins, given to those with 1,000 hours and 15 years of service as SAH volunteers. “A few years back, we had three volunteers with 50 years of service each. Our volunteers are incredible, the amount of time they give and the job they do here is incredible,” said Christina Jobst, SAH Volunteer Resources program assistant. “It’s a pleasure coming to work every day. They make my day better. It’s a pleasure to work with such a diverse, wonderful and generous group,” Jobst said. 

Both Velma and Jackie recommend volunteering at SAH. “There is something in the hospital for everybody. A lot of people say ‘I couldn’t volunteer in the cancer clinic,’ but we volunteer all over the hospital,” Velma said. “You don’t have to be around sick people. You can volunteer in the gift shop, at the information desk, or knit for the gift shop, help with the bake sales…we’ll find space for you,” Jackie smiled.

For more information on volunteering at SAH, go to the SAH website and click on 'volunteering.'