Thanks to its 35 years of service to North Vancouver Island, many people here are well aware of the Gazette Hamper Fund.
They may be somewhat less aware of the groups and volunteers who make it possible to provide Christmas meals and gifts to more than 500 families and individuals each holiday season.
See, the Hamper Fund bears our name, and we possess the platform to publicize it. But the Hamper Fund has never been solely a North Island Gazette function. Its successes flow from the input and volunteer labour of a wide cross-section of community volunteers.
One of those staunch volunteers in recent years has been Debbie Huddlestan, most recently identified as a Port Hardy councillor and deputy mayor. When her close friend Cathie Poje was force to step down as the longtime volunteer in charge of toy delivery for the Hamper Fund, Huddlestan immediately stepped forward to offer her time and effort to the cause.
This continued even after she assumed a spot on Port Hardy council following the death of her husband, Al, to cancer in March of 2013. Indeed, while Deb decided to retire from service as a councillor in the recent municipal elections, she had agreed to return to volunteer this year for another season with the Hamper Fund.
With the news of her sudden passing Sunday morning, we were left with a huge hole to fill on the Hamper Fund board.
But we never had a chance to persuade a replacement to take on her duties. Within a day of the tragic news, no fewer than three individuals walked into the Gazette office with offers to step in and take on her role. Another, former Gazette publisher and Hamper Fund board chair Sandy Grenier, made the same offer via text message.
This overwhelming response was about the Hamper Fund, to a degree. But it was even more about recognizing Debbie’s contributions to the project, and making sure that her work was continued and honoured.
The Gazette thanks current Hamper Fund board member Kevin Martineau and his wife, Lauren, for being first in line to assume Deb’s duties. We offer a special nod to Grenier, Craig and Dee Ferguson, and teacher Robyn Gordon for their offers, and those who have contacted the aforementioned to offer their services.
We also wish to extend our heartfelt condolences to the daughters and extended family of Debbie Huddlestan, and to Cathie Poje, who has lost her two best friends in the span of six months with the passing of Mayor Bev Parnham in May.
As Debbie said during Parnham’s celebration of life:
“Bev felt that leadership is a gift that comes with huge responsibility. It is the opportunity to make positive change in the lives of others. She said it is a job of a leader to inspire and urge people, young and old, to make their community a better place. I think she succeeded in that job.”
So did you, Deb. So did you.