Community fundraisers focus on finances, but lift spirits, too

SHERBROOKE — Despite having the highest rate of poverty of any province in Canada, as indicated in a report released earlier this year by United Way Halifax, the willingness to care and lend a helping hand to a friend or neighbour continues to be at the heart of many Nova Scotian communities, including those in the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s.

“I’m thankful, so thankful,” Marty MacDonald said of the generosity he has experienced after a recent series of health scares.

After having a heart attack, the long-time Sherbrooke resident had to be revived by the emergency room doctor and staff when he arrived at the hospital. Open heart surgery to replace five arteries and veins followed, along with implantation of a pacemaker and implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), hernia operation and a skin cancer diagnosis. A second hospital stay followed for a collapsed lung.

Within days of MacDonald’s heart attack, local entrepreneur and friend Tammie Vautour put out a call to the community and arranged a food train. People signed up to deliver proper meals to him when he got home from hospital.

They also organized a fundraiser so MacDonald could focus on his health and not have to worry about paying bills or medical expenses. Musicians and well-wishers gathered at a Sherbrooke church to wish him well, lift his spirits and assist him financially.

As he continues his recovery, MacDonald said it was more than the financial help that touched him – it was also the emotional support, which has contributed greatly.

Single and with his only child living across the country, MacDonald was on his own once he arrived home from the hospital; no one to assist him, including with making meals.

“I want to say thank you to all of the people who went above and beyond, making me meals; Tammie at the bistro for cooking me dinner night and day,” he said. “It all makes a very difficult situation easier to go through.”

He also thanked everyone who attended the fundraiser, along with everyone – including Stewart Wilmott, Mike Porter and Lanny Boyer – who set up the music.

“It all means so much,” he said.

Like MacDonald, Port Bickerton resident Brock Kaiser is discovering just how much he is valued by his community.

Kaiser and his partner Cheryl Kulagowski had their lives turned upside down when he went to the doctor over a persistent pain in his back, leading to an X-ray that showed a suspicious mass on one of his lungs. After a CT scan, he received a lung cancer diagnosis.

A combination of radiation and chemotherapy was chosen as the “best path to a cure,” which Kulagowski said gave the couple hope.

That treatment path includes multiple trips to hospitals and doctors’ appointments, which means spending on gas, accommodations and meals. And, in Kaiser’s case, clothing had to be purchased specifically to wear in the radiation room, along with costly items to help manage some of the side effects from the treatments.

Darla Jack-Porter contacted the couple with a proposal to hold a fundraiser to help with their expenses.

“She was excited about the idea and, having gone through cancer last year, she repeatedly told Brock that he was going to need the financial support. This community organized a fundraiser for her and now she is organizing them for others… and loving it. She gave us some time to think about it,” said Kulagowski.

She noted that her partner was reluctant.

“Brock didn’t want to be in the limelight or the focus at a community event, like the fundraisers we ourselves had attended,” she explained. “He was also going through the shock of having a cancer diagnosis, thinking about what he’s done in his life, his mortality, his family and the legacy he leaves them.”

Kulagowski said, after plenty of discussions – and with Darla’s words ringing in his ears and given his income status – Kaiser decided he should accept it, while requesting that it be a more low-key fundraiser that the ones that the couple had attended.

Jack-Porter organized an online auction.

“This fundraiser was organized by a group of local people, who not only solicited donations from the generous local residents, fishermen and businesses, but also from folks and businesses in neighbouring communities and even counties,” said Kulagowski. “It seemed no rock was left unturned. There was an amazing array of 78 lots put together for people to bid on, and there was something for everyone. The organizers truly worked incredibly hard.”

She said comments on a Facebook page she created in support of her partner were “so encouraging” for him. They came from other provinces and as far away as Maine.

“Brock doesn’t drive. He is a walker and cyclist, who can be seen going up the road on a daily basis, although of late he’s been walking at a much slower pace. Given that his bike is ready for the trash, perhaps through this fundraiser he’ll be able to afford that e-bike he’s been talking about. This would be of great value in his recovery period – pedal when he can, rely on the motor when he can’t,” Kulagowski said.

She added that her partner was not expecting such an incredible response.

“It’s good to see,” he told her.

Kaiser said the success of the fundraiser has lifted his spirits and the community support makes him feel good.

“He’s always been a loner and finds all the offerings of help and expressed concern about his well-being to be remarkable,” said Kulagowski. “He does not like to ask for help and finds this hard to do, but he did it and he says, ‘It’s good.’”

Kulagowski was asked how this experience has impacted her.

“I feel humbled and honoured – it truly is heartwarming. I am a newcomer here and the support shown me makes me feel accepted and valued by this community. I’ve had numerous invitations by others to stop by, anytime, and I have, on rougher days, wandered up the road and sat with these precious friends,” she said.

“Often, in my day-to-day, not only do people ask me about how Brock is doing, but they also will enquire as to my well-being. They know that cancer also affects those who are closest to the person with the diagnosis. I appreciate the genuine concern expressed in many different ways and by so many.”

According to local couples and families who have benefitted from them, the importance of community support and caring, as well as financial assistance during a time of difficulty in someone’s life – be it from a concert, an online auction or any other event – cannot be underestimated.

“I take joy in Brock’s gradual realization that he is valued by, and is an integral part of this community,” said Kulagowski.

When asked how he felt about the support shown to him by his community and friends, MacDonald replied, “I always knew I was liked, but I guess I didn’t realize how much. I’m amazed and humbled, so proud to be from Sherbrooke. It makes me happy, and it makes my daughter happy, too.”

Joanne Jordan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal