In a typical spring, the Vermilion Bay Lions of northwestern Ontario, Canada, would be busy planning their free community dinner for seniors, a popular annual event. More than 100 people would come to the Lions Hall in the small town of Vermilion Bay along Eagle Lake, population 1,000, for a hot meal served by youth from the Canadian military’s cadet program, supported by Lions.
The outpouring of support has been rewarding for everyone involved.
Lions Hall is the largest community building in the area, but it is also designated as an emergency response center and an evacuation center. That was in name only until this spring, in the grasp of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, when the Vermilion Lions turned their hall into a much-needed Emergency Food Relief Center. District governor elect Shirley Koroniak of Multiple District 5M says the Lions, including Lion Doris St. Jules, the principal at the local Lilian Berg Elementary School, started to worry about the children who were helped through the NOW – Nutrition on Weekends – program, and the Breakfast for Learning program, before schools closed.
With an OK from the Northwestern Health Unit, one of the primary funders of the two programs, the Lions were able to divert the school’s food stock to local organizations helping to meet food shortage needs. They also began working in partnership with the area food bank located about 30 minutes away in the city of Dryden, so Lions could pick up the hampers for families and either safely deliver them or have them at Lions Hall for pickup, reducing the number of people having to leave home and drive to Dryden on a weekly basis.
The club is currently serving 25 adults and about 17 children ages 1 to 17 on a weekly basis, and Koroniak expects the number to increase as they experience work shortages due to the pandemic.
“The outpouring of support has been rewarding for everyone involved,” she says. “Our families receiving the support during the time of crisis are extremely thankful that the Vermilion Bay Lions have been able to mobilize in a very short time frame to serve our community.”
Although many Lions have volunteered to help, the club has limited involvement to eight or 10 because of safety and social distancing guidelines. But many, Lions and community members alike, have come forward with donations and food supplies.
She hopes many of the community volunteers will also consider joining one of the area Lions clubs in the future. Their club membership of 44 includes at least 10 new members who joined this year.
“Why? Because we’re very active,” she says. “Everybody knows the work of the Lions here.”
About three hours south of there, in Emo, Ontario, near the Minnesota-Canada border, Immediate Past District Governor Joanne Ogden in 5M 10 works as a public health nurse and stops on her way home from work to pick up and deliver groceries to eight or 10 households in her small community of 1,200.
The Emo and District Lions, an international club of 60, has piggybacked on a community project. Instead of putting grocery workers at risk for contracting COVID-19, they set up a Facebook page, “COVID Delivery,” where people can message a small order through Facebook, or phone a store directly and pay by phone. Grocery workers bring the orders to Lion volunteers who pull up outside the store and then deliver them to the houses.
At the houses, drivers call to say the delivery has arrived, then drop the order 30 feet from the door.
“It’s been really cool, because sometimes when you drop off the groceries and you’re talking to somebody through the window, social distancing, you know, they want to give you a tip. But you tell them that this is what Lions do,” says Ogden. “It’s planting a seed in a lot of heads for people who probably wouldn’t have thought about it before.”
Another community project the club joined has four masks with filters being sewn for each essential worker in their communities. Each will receive two for home and two for work. In all, it means at least 2,000 are being made, Ogden says.
“I was one of those Lions, dragged in kicking and screaming that I don’t have time,” she remembers of being asked to join the organization in 2010. “Then you begin seeing all the good that you’re doing for others. And when you sit and listen to someone like Brian Sheehan (International 2nd Vice President), you wonder, ‘Why haven’t I been a Lion forever?’”
This story comes to you from the staff of LION Magazine. For more great stories, visit lionmagazine.org.
Joan Cary is the assistant editor for LION Magazine.