GANDER, NL – The Canadian Red Cross had to create a new plaque to commemorate the number of years Jeanne and Desmond Dillon have served.
The couple reached an impressive 50 years of volunteer service in 2016.
One might expect this award would be hung proudly in a prestigious location in the home, but it was still wrapped in plastic.
Being involved in the Red Cross disaster services arm took the couple to many places where assistance was required.
“We’ve been away to different countries like the United States. We’ve been to fires, floods and earthquakes,” said Desmond.
“We were heavily involved in 9/11 (in Gander) as well.”
The Dillons assisted in disasters by providing food, clothing and helping with registration inquiries.
“A lot of the assistance was social – people felt that they were listened to and felt better,” Jeanne said. “It was hard for the victims and they would give you a hug after.”
In the early days, Desmond would take time off from his regular job as a social worker to volunteer. The minimum time required on the field was three weeks.
Jeanne would stay at home with their young children while Desmond was away, and it did not bother her.
“It made him happy, and he likes helping,” said Jeanne.
“He was happiest when he did it – it was only three weeks at a time, and you are helping someone who is badly in need of help, right?”
Jeanne would later accompany Desmond when the children grew up and when she retired.
It was common for new volunteers to feel overwhelmed and stretch themselves beyond their physical ability, burning themselves out, according to Desmond.
No training was initially provided to volunteers, but courses are now mandatory before volunteers are sent on operations. Volunteering as a couple, according to Jeanne, was a significant advantage to their mental wellness.
“If both of us have a hard day, we can talk about it, and it makes all the difference in the world,” Jeanne said.
Desmond cautioned against taking the work home.
“Know that you’ve done your best, and for those three weeks, you made people’s lives a bit more comfortable,” he said.
As committed as Jeanne and Desmond are, it’s not surprising lending a helping hand runs in the family. Desmond said his father was involved with the Red Cross in the early 1950s. His son, David Dillon, is the president of the Gander branch of the Canadian Red Cross.
“And my other boys help out with the Red Cross if there is a need for extra volunteers. Some of my grandchildren help out too,” said Desmond.
“We don’t look at it like a chore – we actually enjoy it,” said Jeanne. “But being on-call can be a little nuisance.”
Both agreed there is a constant need for volunteers and that is why they get involved with various organizations, such as Broadening Horizons, the curling club, Canadian Blood Services, the Health Equipment Loan Program (HELP) and their local church.
“Wherever we are needed, you will find either one of us, or two of us together,” said Jeanne.