By Jenn Watt
You couldn’t have asked for a more humble response from a Highlander of the Year recipient.
On Saturday evening, Joanne Barnes, manager of both the Minden Community Food Centre and Fuel for Warmth took home the night’s big prize with a decidedly understated approach.
“What I do is just everyday for me. It’s wonderful to be acknowledged and even without the acknowledgement I would still be out there doing it. I enjoy helping people. It’s nice to see them come into the office very downtrodden, but when they leave the office they have less weight on their shoulders. My mandate is to feed people and keep them warm,” she said simply. And then she was off the stage.
Barnes has been doing good work for people of the county for years. Sometimes because her work involves one-on-one transactions – those personal, vulnerable interactions when one must ask for help – the importance of her actions isn’t noticed as obviously as others’ might be.
It makes it harder to see and therefore harder to recognize.
But make no mistake: the effects of Barnes’s work, and that of the entire Fuel for Warmth and Minden Community Food Centre staff and volunteer base, is widely felt.
Since 2009, Fuel for Warmth has assisted 400 families with home heating across Haliburton County. The food bank has hundreds of families on its roster.
These are people who are not just needing food, but who are going through difficulties. It’s important that the people receiving them do so with respect and empathy – traits that Barnes demonstrates in the work she does.
Another group of incredibly deserving volunteers in the community were honoured on Saturday as well. This year’s Warden’s Award was given to the 150 volunteer firefighters of Haliburton County.
In a powerful speech, Warden Carol Moffatt explained why this group was worthy of recognition.
“They run in when everyone else is running out. They see people at their worst and they see some pretty terrible things, but they keep going back,” she said.
Whole families are affected when one member becomes a firefighter: nights are left sleepless; meals go unfinished; holiday celebrations are delayed. Their work ensures the rest of us can live in relative security knowing that when the worst happens, community members will be there ready and willing.
As Moffatt said, our firefighters are the ones who show up when everything is in ruins and they make things better.
“They deal with the smashed, the bleeding, the broken and the dead and for that they take home a couple thousand dollars pay,” she said.
On Saturday night, many in the room were teary eyed acknowledging the deep debt we collectively owe our fire departments. Their efforts are deserving of the Warden’s Award and so much more.