For decades, a group of volunteers has supported Chilliwack General Hospital by raising money to buy medical equipment.
But back in 1911, when the Chilliwack Hospital Auxiliary first started up, they were raising funds to buy something else – the hospital itself.
Chilliwack’s first hospital officially opened, debt-free, on Feb. 28, 1912 thanks to the auxiliary and other people and organizations that helped raise money.
As National Volunteer Week approaches (April 24 to 30) auxiliary members are putting the call out for others to join them so they can continue to support the hospital.
Volunteer and former nurse Debbie Tracey said it gives her something to do in her retirement years.
“I like being back in the hospital and seeing some of the old faces and helping people navigate through the hospital,” Tracey said. “Here (in the thrift shop) it’s just fun.”
Fellow volunteer Karen Houlden moved from North Vancouver to Chilliwack and didn’t know anyone when she got here, so she joined the auxiliary to meet new friends.
Tracey said the women in the auxiliary all care about each other.
“It’s kind of a sisterhood,” she said.
Aside from running the Chilliwack Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shoppe on Main Street, volunteers help out at the info desk located inside the main entrance of the hospital, assist nurses and patients, and sell items from their knitting cart – a little glassed-in cart that has hand-knitted baby items for sale that are made and donated by folks in the community.
Back around 2010, there were more than 100 volunteers with the auxiliary. But over the years, and especially during COVID, that number dropped significantly.
The biggest problem is aging volunteers. There have been some age-related deaths while others left when the pandemic hit and never came back.
They’re now at 31 members. Tracey and Houlden said they would love to see the number of volunteers increase to 100 again, but they’d be happy with just a handful more.
“If we could even get five or 10 volunteers, we would be thrilled,” Tracey said.
Volunteers are expected to work a minimum of one, four-hour shift per week.
They’ve had to reduce services lately at the thrift shop and hospital because they don’t have enough volunteers.
“We’re desperate for volunteers,” Tracey said.
“Everybody is desperate,” Houlden added. “And there’s only so many people to go around.”
They raise money mostly from the items they sell at the thrift shop, but also from events like raffles, bake sales and pub nights. The money goes towards purchasing items from the hospital’s “wish list.”
This year they’re buying a scope for the operating room, a locking med cart which holds medications for Heritage Village, a med cart and a lift for Bradley Centre, and a bariatric stretcher for the emergency ward. The total for the five items is $50,300.
“Our basic aim is to fundraise and supply equipment for the hospital,” Tracey said.
The auxiliary also donates to various fundraisers for the hospital, such as Run For Mom. And each year they hand out three, $2,000 high school bursaries – one to Chilliwack Secondary, one to Sardis Secondary and one to G.W. Graham.
It was back in 1908 when folks realized the need for a hospital in Chilliwack
“Imagine having to travel by horse and buggy to a boat landing and then a two-day steamer boat trip down the Fraser River to the New Westminster hospital or travelling by CPR train from Agassiz. This was the reality for people living in Chilliwack in the early 1900s,” reads the historical writeup on the Chilliwack Hospital Auxiliary website.
The auxiliary was formed on May 1, 1911, but even before that, women were selling tags, badges and ribbons to raise money for Chilliwack’s first hospital.
Tracey and Houlden point out that membership is open to men and women, and they’re encouraging younger folks to join.
“We are certainly open to people that just want to get out and do something and meet people and not feel isolated,” Houlden said.
There is an application process to become a Chilliwack Hospital Auxiliary volunteer, plus people will need to get a criminal record check done at no charge. There’s a yearly membership fee of $12.
To volunteer, go to chilliwackhospitalauxiliary.ca, or email email@example.com or Debbie Tracey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The thrift shop is at 9236 Main St. and is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (donations accepted during this time, no furniture). The info desk at the hospital is open 8 a.m. to noon Monday to Friday.