Lynn Morrison received a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal at a ceremony Dec. 17 in Duncan in recognition of her founding role with the Chemainus Harvest House Food Bank.
Morrison, who was nominated for the award in October by longtime friends Diana MacTavish and John Silins, said public recognition for her work is “embarrassing,” but appreciated nonetheless.
“I did it because I loved it,” Morrison said in reference to her volunteerism, “but it makes it that much more special when you get recognized by your own community for what you’ve done, because sometimes there were sacrifices — for my husband, my family. When you’re an avid volunteer who is in a leadership role, your family does suffer. They also have to give a lot. There’s only so many hours in a day”
Morrison said she worked longer hours and learned far more while volunteering than she would have at any paid position she’s held in the past, adding that it taught her a great deal regarding what’s truly meaningful in life.
“I’m just sad I can’t do it so much anymore,” Morrison said, “but I do what I can.”
Morrison’s affinity for community service is tied to her immersion in volunteerism as a child. Born and raised in Chemainus, Morrison said her parents were “huge volunteers.” Her mother and father helped build the Chemainus Community Centre and it later became their home while her parents served as the centre’s caretakers.
Coaching local sports teams was another means her parents used to show their gratitude to a community that had supported their athletic pursuits.
“My mom was a triple-A ball player,” Morrison said, “and my dad was semi-pro. They travelled all over playing ball.”
In turn, her father coached baseball and her mother coached softball for years as a way to give back.
“They always taught me that that’s what you do,” Morrison said. “A community is only as good as those who participate in it.”
At 19, Morrison was sent by the Rotary Club to a leadership conference held at Pacific Lutheran University in Washington State. She came away from the conference a changed person, she said, fueled by an awareness of how she could make a difference.
She started coaching ball and later volunteered with the Girl Guides, convincing her sister to lend a hand. Those were the early years of a service career that neither marriage nor motherhood would derail.
“I can remember standing on first base coaching my team with my first baby strapped to my chest in a carry-all,” Morrison said.
Years later, Morrison participated in a food drive in Chemainus to mark National Children’s Day. All of the food they received that first year was sent to the Basket Society in Duncan, Morrison said, because there was nowhere in Chemainus to bring it.
Morrison recognized how difficult it would be for needy Chemainus residents to travel to and from Duncan, especially parents with young children.
“You got on a bus and it took you most of the day to get to Duncan and back,” she said.
Morrison sat down with Alison White and Mary Dolan to discuss solutions, and the idea of a Chemainus food bank was born.
Morrison travelled to food banks located throughout Vancouver Island to discuss strategy with managers. She then approached Bob Hermanson of the Ladysmith Lions Club to ask if the Lions might consider backing a food bank in Chemainus. The Ladysmith Lions agreed, and in October 2000, Chemainus’ first food bank opened its doors.
“When we first opened,” Morrison said, “we served 15 people. By the time I retired, we served 150 per week.”
In recent years, Morrison has been forced to limit her volunteer efforts because she has difficulty breathing. Lung damage resulting from a pair of near-fatal bacterial lung infections, compounded by COPD and the successful treatment of a tumour in one of her lungs, has left Morrison dependent on supplemental oxygen.
“I couldn’t walk to the end of a street,” Morrison said. “There’s no way. But I have a scooter and my scooter helps a lot.”
She continues to volunteer, but limits herself to work she can do from home or to errands she can run on her scooter.
Diana MacTavish “thought it would be nice” to see Morrison acknowledged for her contributions to the community of Chemainus.
“Lynn was instrumental in setting up Harvest House,” MacTavish said. “For a number of years, Lynn was the magic behind it continuing. If it weren’t for Lynn, there wouldn’t be a food bank in Chemainus today.”
MacTavish said Morrison “did everything,” including soliciting funds from public and corporate sponsors, rallying volunteers, purchasing food, arranging schedules and paying the bills.
“She was Harvest House,” MacTavish added.
According to the Governor General of Canada’s website, the QE II Diamond Jubilee Medal was created to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign and it “serves to honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians.”
Morrison received her award from Nanaimo-Cowichan MP Jean Crowder at a ceremony held Mon, Dec. 17 at the Island Savings Centre in Duncan.