When Lorna Fisher started volunteering at St. Michael’s Mission in downtown Montreal more than 20 years ago, she wasn’t sure if she’d stick it out.
“The first day I went down there, I said, ‘What the hell am I doing down there?’ I was scared stiff,” Fisher recalled of her first impressions at the non-profit agency that helps the poor and homeless of the inner-city.
“It can be a very challenging population. There’s addiction and alcoholism. One minute I can give a guy a pair of socks and I’m the queen. And the next day I tell him I don’t have any socks and I’m the bitch.”
But Fisher, 75, persevered and became a fixture at St. Michael’s, as well as volunteering locally at the food bank at Christ Church Beaurepaire in Beaconsfield and helping out at On Rock Community Services in Pierrefonds.
Her selfless efforts have not gone unnoticed by church members who nominated her for the prestigious Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, an official Canadian honour that recognizes more than two decades of Fisher’s volunteerism at St. Michael’s. The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, which incorporates and replaces the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award (1995-2016), recognizes the “exceptional volunteer achievements of Canadians from across the country in a wide range of fields.”
Fisher was presented with the medal Sunday by the Anglican Bishop of Montreal, the Right Reverend Mary Irwin Gibson, in a ceremony at Christ Church Beaurepaire.
Fisher, who began volunteering at the downtown mission in 1996, said she was humbled by the honour.
“I was absolutely stunned. It came out of the blue. What I’ve said to some friends is so many others do so much more, I’m not really sure I’m worthy of it,” she said. “But it was being offered and I’m taking it,” she added with a laugh.
Fisher, who’s lived in Kirkland since 1978, got involved with volunteering after a 33-year career at the Royal Bank of Canada.
“I was looking for something to do,” she said. “I liked to joke around and say I don’t have any talents. I don’t sing or dance, but someone said to me,’ Well, you can serve’. I thought, well, I could do that. That’s how it really came about.”
Fisher still volunteers every Monday at St. Michael’s, serving coffee to clients, peeling vegetables for soups or making peanut butter sandwiches. She’s also done laundry service for clients who have access to the mission’s showers.
Fisher also collects food and clothing from friends, and towels left behind at the Monster Gym, which are brought to the mission where they get a second life.
But being a front-line helper to the homeless has its challenges, noted Fisher.
“It’s a pretty rough environment at times, but it worked for me. So I didn’t have a problem with it.”
She credits a two-year stint in the naval reserves for preparing her with the life skills needed to make a difference on downtown streets.
“It’s not the population for everybody but it works for me. I spent a couple of years in the naval reserve, so I’m not a little timid person. I don’t have any problems with that.
“If some guy goes through the line and says something (about the coffee) I tell them him there’s a Tim Horton’s around the corner,” she said laughing.
Asked if she derives personal satisfaction from volunteering, Fisher said: “I guess the answer to that is yes, but I don’t think of it in terms of feeling good or feeling bad. I know I’m being helpful.
“I’ve never asked for a thing in my life and if the mission needs a water cooler, I somehow get a water cooler ,”she said.
“Also, because I worked for the Royal Bank, they have a very generous volunteer grant program. For the last 15 years or more, I get an annual grant of $500 from the Royal Bank to be used at the mission for a specific item.”
Fisher said driving downtown from the West Island has become a headache with the seemingly endless road construction in the city.
“Some days I think it’s time to quit and other days I’m looking forward to Monday to go back in. “
Next month, she’ll celebrate her golden wedding anniversary with husband Arthur. The Fishers raised two children – Laura and Earl – who both now reside in Ontario.
“We will be married 50 years next month, 40 years to the day we moved to Kirkland,” Fisher said.
“It’s been a good run.”