Volunteers at the core of Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute

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Volunteers at the core of Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute

Volunteers at the core of Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute

Ron Charbonneau pulls up to the front entrance of Edmonton's Cross Cancer Institute.

The retired oil-and-gas worker is one of the volunteers driving patients back and forth to their cancer treatments.

"It makes me feel good and it helps them out," Charbonneau said. "It's just a nice thing to do."

Every Tuesday for the last four years Charbonneau has been behind the wheel of the free shuttle service. 

He's one of an estimated 375 volunteers who last year contributed 46,080 hours at the institute, according to Deborah McTaggart-Baird, manager of volunteer resources.

"We have an amazingly caring staff at the Cross Cancer Institute, but volunteers do little things that make a world of difference whether it's practical supports like the van shuttle service that Ron is a part of; whether it's the cancer information centre that's a patient and family library information service; whether it's our wig services where patients undergoing some of the symptoms of treatment and dealing with hair loss are able to borrow a wig."

The institute, named after former Alberta Health Minister Dr. William W. Cross, opened on University Avenue at 115th Street in 1968.

Last year, more than 21,700 patients received treatment.  

McTaggart-Baird believes the state-of-the-art technology and leading research is a source of pride, but so are the volunteers in maroon vests, who fill more than 40 roles throughout the four-storey hospital.

On the 50th anniversary in 2012, the volunteer association was honoured with a prime minister's award and a healing garden as a lasting legacy of their commitment.

Many of the volunteers are former patients or people who've had friends or family with cancer, McTaggart-Baird said.

That's true for Ron Charbonneau, whose mother Hazel had volunteered for a quarter century before him.

"My parents suffered through cancer and died as a result of cancer so it's a pay forward for me in a way."

You can see more from the Cross Cancer Institute Saturday on Our Edmonton at 10 a.m. and Sunday and Monday at 11 a.m. on CBC TV.