Ron and Mavis Ramsey now have their medals from the Governor-General of Canada recognizing their service to the community in converting recyclable containers into money to help seniors pay for prescription medications.
Officially awarded in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and then illness prevented the Thornhill couple from travelling to Ottawa to receive their Meritorious Service Medals for civilians in person.
So the medals were packaged up and shipped along with gift items late last year.
Ron and Mavis began what is now known as the Helping Hands Society of Terrace in 2011 when they took $50 from their pensions to Save On Foods pharmacist Denise Law.
“She agreed to take that amount and have an account for seniors who did not have enough money to pay for their prescriptions,” said Ron of that first meeting.
An early-on example was a woman telling Law that she couldn’t afford heart and other medications for both herself and her husband, so she was content to have only her husband’s prescriptions filled.
When told she could have all the prescriptions filled, said Ron, she began crying and so did Law.
“So there they both were, both of them bawling at the counter, their eyes red.”
At first, Ron and Mavis financed Helping Hands by splitting kindling, then selling it in bundles at local stores.
But their efforts soon turned to recycling containers that have deposits and other revenue streams. The enterprise generated $110,000 last year from recycling containers, scrap metal and from private donations.
“We keep $1,000 at each pharmacy,” said Ramsey of the two Shoppers Drug Marts, Pharmasave, Save on Foods and a Kitimat pharmacy that participate. It is, he said, a simple system.
“Nobody tells us what we can and can’t do,” Ramsey emphasized.
Ron and Mavis built partnerships that helped establish a covered depot and work area for recycling beside their residence at the entrance to the Terrace Rod and Gun Club and to assist Helping Hands when needed.
The Ramseys became caretakers when the rod and gun club needed someone living at the location. The club provided an addition to a mobile home for the couple.
“Without their help, Helping Hands wouldn’t exist,” said Ron.
Geier Waste has been dropping off recyclables when it makes pick-ups at various work camps and Aqua Plumbing has provided administrative help.
“Seniors are at the core of the community. There are generations of people here now and anything we can do to support the community we’ll do,” said Karleen Lemiski from Aqua Plumbing.
Helping Hands also expanded beyond prescription assistance.
When locally-owned Hawkair had service to Vancouver, the airline would fly people south for treatment at no charge. Helping Hands would cover taxes and other airport use related fees. When transit service for seniors with physical limitations isn’t available, Helping Hands will help with taxi fare.
Helping Hands provided reclining chairs at Terraceview Lodge that rise up, making it easier for residents to either sit down or stand up.
The non-profit also bought a TV and pays cable fees for a resident who can’t leave his room.
There’s a comfort account for less-well off seniors so they can enjoy a coffee and buy toiletries. One resident received a new dress and a hair-do.
The Ramseys responded to a call from a local doctor when a young woman in Kitimat needed help to get to Vancouver and stay there for cancer treatment.
“The doctor told us that had that young girl not gone to Vancouver when she did, she would be dead by now,” said Ron.
The Ramseys now are experiencing their own medical difficulties. Mavis, 74, is in a hospital in Vancouver right now and has had both legs amputated. Ron, 82, has a recurring heart condition and has trouble with a leg.
While Helping Hands has two volunteers right now helping with the recycling, more are always welcome.
“What we need is people to help sort,” said Ron.
“We want to get back up to 10 people, each at four hours a week.”
With that kind of assistance, Helping Hands could far exceed its current income, he said.
The couple’s Meritorious Service Medals are now on display in the living area of their home.
The medals “celebrate Canadians who have performed an exceptional deed or activity that brings honour to Canada,” reads information on the Governor-General of Canada’s website.
“You know it’s your medal because your name is engraved around the edge,” said Ron, holding his medal carefully.