For decades, Gayle Ireland has been at the helm of the Goldstream Food Bank – and an active community volunteer even longer.
On Thursday (March 24) the province recognized her with its second-highest award, acknowledging her extraordinary efforts that allowed the food bank to operate non-stop throughout the pandemic.
Ireland’s Medal of Good Citizenship citation says she displayed “outstanding leadership in such unprecedented times,” in making the food bank “unstoppable.”
Humble as ever, she said the award was really not just for her, but for her entire team.
“It’s for all of the volunteers at the food bank and all the supporters, like (Royal Canadian Legion Branch 91). It means a lot, any recognition means a lot … every recognition for the food bank validates what we are doing. It just makes everything we do all the more worthwhile.”
Accepting the award was unexpectedly even more meaningful than it would have been. The medals were slated to all be presented in a virtual ceremony, but when technical difficulties prevented her from participating, Premier John Horgan invited her to the legislature to present her award in person.
“What an experience that was,” Ireland said. “He then gave me a personal tour of the whole legislature buildings … it was just unbelievable.”
The premier is a long-standing supporter of the Goldstream Food Bank, support that predates his election into office, she said.
Asked why she and her team put in so much extra effort to help clients through the challenges of the pandemic, Ireland said it was an obvious decision when its impact on people in all walks of life became apparent.
“We knew there would be huge financial repercussions because of the pandemic, and that a whole new segment of society would be suffering like they have never suffered before. It was very important for us to keep our services open and accessible for anybody who needed it.”
While the number of clients being served by the food bank actually went down at first thanks to the financial support of the federal CERB program, the demand has since returned to and even surpassed pre-pandemic levels, Ireland said.