Twice a week, Ron Gibbins drives seniors to appointments, through Saanich Volunteer Services.

“My time’s pretty flexible, being retired” says Gibbins, “so I get that phone call Tuesday morning for the next week, and I usually book two drives.  And I also have a fellow that I visit once a week, just a home visitation in one of the care homes, so that’s a third visit a week.”

There are 150 volunteers who give a few hours a week to the non-profit.

“We have five part-time staff, and otherwise it’s all volunteers who provide services to seniors in the Saanich area” says M-J Cousins, Volunteer Recruitment and Office Coordinator with Saanich Volunteer Services.  “Seniors who are still living in their homes and just need a little bit of help to live independently.”

There are about 600 seniors registered with the organization.

“Our greatest service is driving them to appointments,” says Cousins. “That’s largely medical appointments, but also other appointments that are important to keep them healthy and well.”

Janice Kataoka has been a volunteer driver for about five years, and she always looks forward to her one morning a week with Saanich Volunteer Services.  “I’ve lost both my parents, and it kind of gives me a connection with that generation.  And it’s really lovely to speak to them – kinda feel like my mum or dad are still with me…” she adds warmly.

Along with driving, volunteers can also help with light housekeeping, handyman repairs, computer challenges, gardening, or just companion visits.

“Loneliness is an issue for people that live alone” says Cousins. “They’re not seeing people, and they’re not able to be out as much as they used to be, so we go and visit them.”

One of the vital volunteers at the organization is Ellie Donahue, who mans the reception desk every Wednesday morning, coordinating clients with volunteers.

“There are ten of us [who cover reception]” says Donahue. “We each do a morning, or an afternoon shift once a week. People phone in and ask [for a particular service], and then we enter it in the computer, and then we try to find people to help them. You have to be able to multi-task” she adds with a proud smile.

Donahue is also a warm, reassuring voice at the end of the phone.

“I love it, and I love talking with the people who need the help. They’re a special part of our society, and they need us.”

Kathy Blades is one of the grateful clients of Saanich Volunteer Services.  “I think it’s marvelous, a really marvelous association, designed to help people.  And they’re very reliable, they’re very friendly, they’re very nice, so that if you have doctor’s appointments and things like that, you can get help to get there.”

As Gibbins helps Blades into his car, he muses about the various people he has met as a volunteer driver.  “A lot of them, they’re a generation beyond me, they’ve got histories going back to before the war.  I’ve driven people that had stories about how they had to escape from Germany, you know, before the war, or during the war, that sort of thing…and what their lives have been like since then, so it’s been very interesting that way.

“Also” Gibbins adds, “it’s nice being able to do something that you feel is appreciated, that is a necessary service, and it does put something back into society.”

And while Saanich Volunteer Services is grateful for each of their 150 volunteers, Cousins points out that “we are always looking for more because our need is increasing. The average age of our clients is going up, and people want to stay in their own homes, and so the demand for help is going up.”

A rewarding job that is hugely appreciated, if you have a few hours a week to spare.

Veronica Cooper