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Heroes of Heron Emergency Food Centre - Darlene Myles

A 55-year-old single mom, still raising her 15-year-old daughter who has Down Syndrome and autism, she has been a volunteer with HEFC for about 5 years Darlene explained that she first became involved with HEFC as a client

By Lynn Sherwood, December 2018

Often, when I attend community events to talk about HEFC, people ask if their donations really make a difference, if what they give is really needed. Let me tell you about Darlene Myles, our Hero for December.

Darlene Myles - Hero for December 2018

Darlene volunteers at HEFC. What you notice most about Darlene is her broad smile and her friendly openness, you can’t spend time with her without smiling yourself. A 55-year-old single mom, still raising her 15-year-old daughter who has Down Syndrome and autism, she has been a volunteer with HEFC for about 5 years

Darlene explained that she first became involved with HEFC as a client. For many years she suffered from acute anxiety and agoraphobia. Allergic to most medications, she was unable to leave her house, and arranged with Louisa Simms, the Executive Co-ordinator, to have emergency food brought to her. But, gradually, as she gained more control over the agoraphobia, she decided to try to come in herself. She contacted Louisa who suggested that she come at the end of the afternoon when fewer people were around, so that she could get her groceries quickly and leave in an unobtrusive fashion. Louisa even gave her a special rock from her collection of rocks from Newfoundland, to carry with her to give her courage. Gradually things became easier for her, and people were so nice and friendly that she thought she might be able to help out by volunteering her time. Now she assists new clients who, in their turn, feel shamed and overwhelmed by having to come in for food. Darlene says she is expert at making the 3-day rations stretch for a week or more and is able to point out to newcomers which foods combine the best to stretch rations the most. She remarked that in the last couple of years, the quality of food has really improved, frozen meat and fresh produce really help a lot. You feel better when you have tasty food.

Darlene states that she loves volunteering at HEFC, a happy and positive place where she feels valued and respected. People come on the same day every month because they get to know and look forward to seeing each other. A kind of friendship develops between volunteers and clients over time. Darlene attributes this pleasant atmosphere to the kindliness, positivity and nonjudgmental approach of Louisa Simms, our Executive Co-ordinator, who treats everyone in a friendly, welcoming and respectful fashion.

Darlene talked about how hard it can be to make ends meet, using her own experience as an example. Darlene is struggling with breast cancer, currently in remission, but of a type which is likely to return. She described how she waited many months to get a proper diagnosis, followed by a biopsy and immediate surgery. After the surgery she required radiation treatment every day for 30 days, which was made even harder for her because of her renewed anxiety. Additionally, her daughter, still quite young, was unable to understand why her mother was so ill and why all her normal routines, so important to a child with her kind of special needs, were upset.

But one of the most difficult things was that she did not have enough money to pay for parking every day at the cancer centre and still put food on the table, since after rent and utilities were paid she had $125.00 a week. Once again, she became a client of HEFC and was able to feed her daughter and herself high quality food while she underwent radiation therapy. Now she is much better, so she is again a volunteer.

Darlene says - understating the situation in my opinion -

“It’s been a rough go, but you’ve got to just keep on going …… I used to find it embarrassing to sit in that lineup for food. But when you look at the crowd you realize that something is missing in society when all these people are in this situation. This is a wealthy country. If everyone in this city helped one other person, the whole community would be better off …… “

Darlene is, of course, right. No one needs to doubt that their donations to the food bank are important. Many of us live in difficult situations; one trauma, one disabled child, or one biopsy away from an empty refrigerator. We all need help at some time in life and we all have the ability to help each other in turn. We can only hope that when our turn comes, we will be able to find the courage and grace that Darlene showed me.

The holiday season is always a busy time at HEFC as churches, service organizations, families and businesses remember the folks in our community who are going through hard times. Funds and food supplies donated through food drives and special events at this time of the year help us provide nutritious and tasty food for people throughout the winter.

Members of the Board of HEFC are happy to attend your holiday event or fundraiser to talk about the service we, all together, provide for our community. Call us at 613 737-9090 or e-mail us at for more information.

Heron Emergency Food Centre is located at 1480 Heron Road and is open 4 days a week to provide emergency food to people in need in Ottawa South.

Check out our Facebook page at Heron Emergency Food Centre @hefcottawa

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