The Alzheimer Society and Me - P's Volunteer Story
All I knew about Alzheimer’s Disease was mostly from loss-of-memory jokes which had been circulating all my life.
Until we got word one day that our aunt had been found lying on a downtown sidewalk one hot August afternoon while wearing her winter coat.
My wife (her niece) assumed power of attorney for personal care and business affairs and took over managing her life as a victim of Alzheimer’s, confined to a single room in a long-term care home and thankfully, having no memory of what her previous life had been as a working woman, always smartly dressed and groomed and a wonderful companion to her husband.
For the next seven years, she battled Alzheimer’s, and we made regular visits to the nursing home. It was heart-breaking.
She had been there for a year when, at a meeting of my PROBUS Club, an Alzheimer Society volunteer stood up and pleaded for volunteers to join the Alzheimer Society of Simcoe Country and assist with things like Tag Days, Coffee Break fund-raisers and other projects.
I signed up, having experienced some of what goes along with Alzheimer’s, and, until COVID-19 put a hold on Tag Days, Coffee Breaks and such, was a volunteer. For 14 years, I stood outside tagging locations like the LCBO, Sobey’s and The Beer Store. I delivered and picked up kits and money from people hosting Coffee Break fund-raisers, did some television interviews when Society staff couldn’t make it, presented trophies of achievement for fund-raising groups, provided marketing and PR advice if appropriate and generally represented the Society wherever required.
But the most fun I had was on Tag Days---two-hour shifts on Fridays and Saturdays during which I came to the conclusion that I could write a book about my conversations and experiences with people, their generosity and their heart-breaking stories of Alzheimer’s and the toll it had taken on their families and friends.
I had zero experience being a tag-day person, and while I did get advice from others, I decided that I would never ask people for donations. People have their own charities and organizations to support, many had given to an Alzheimer volunteer at another tagging location, and many people just don’t want to have to say no. I would simply say hello if they made eye contact and leave it like that.
So, I developed my own modus operandi.
I thanked everyone who gave anything.
I would scan their clothing for logoed hats and shirts and would sometimes make a comment or ask a question relevant to their favorite team.
If they said they would donate on the way out, I thanked them.
At the LCBO and The Beer Store, when they would say they didn’t have change, I jokingly told them I was authorized to accept products.
If they apologized for giving just a few coins, I would tell them that every little bit helped.
When donors thanked me for being a volunteer, I would tell them: “This is a great job---I just stand here and beautiful women come up and give me money.”
I met friends, relatives and people I knew from my days in my previous professions.
I learned that, like a book and its cover, you cannot judge a person’s generosity by what they wear, what they drive or how old they are.
I met people who gave money on the way in and then came back and gave more---including $50 bills.
I met a man I knew who gave me a toonie, having just cashed a cheque the previous month for more than $80,000,000.
I watched people get out of their cars, spot me tagging at the door, and without knowing what it was for, began opening their purses or wallets before they got to me.
I heard countless stories from people who just wanted to talk about their parents, their grandparents, their friends who were suffering or had died. And with them, I would share the story of our aunt.
I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to doing this job again. But if I can, I will.