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Giving the gift of time as a volunteer

By Sheri Ojero, Communications Volunteer 

Most people look forward to retirement as a time to slow down and relax, but that was not the plan for Hamilton resident Jim DePass.

In 2006, after finishing a rewarding 40-year career with a steel manufacturer in Hamilton, Jim decided that his first priority as a retiree was to volunteer, and his sights were set on the Canadian Red Cross.

Canadian Red Cross volunteer Jim DePassOne month later, he was a volunteer driver with the Red Cross transportation program. Jim didn’t stop there. Weeks later he became a disaster management volunteer and a few years after that he took on a role assisting with the development and maintenance of the IT equipment that is used at disaster sites.

When Jim began volunteering he was used to disaster planning for IT and quickly realized that the same basic principles applied to his role with the Red Cross. “Instead of keeping machines running I am now keeping people moving – into temporary shelters, hotels or wherever they can find accommodations when they are displaced from their home due to a house fire or natural disaster,” says Jim.

He continued to put his IT background to use and was part of the team that designed and built six command trailers that act as mobile offices to deliver relief more efficiently for disaster events in Ontario. Jim continues to be involved with the upgrade and maintenance of the trailers and is the go-to resource in Hamilton to transport, set up and demonstrate how to use the trailer.
Jim is also responsible for the creation, maintenance and set up of 14 mobile IT kits that can be used in conjunction with the trailers or stand-alone in any facility. While initially built for use in Ontario, the kits have been used to assist in disaster responses in every province from Ontario as well as from coast to coast. Other provinces have now cloned the idea with two or three kits of their own. The IT kits are now a huge asset when assisting people who have been affected by major disasters and they allow the Canadian Red Cross to provide relief funds and tracking faster than ever before.
Over the past 11 years Jim has been deployed to locations across the province as well as Saskatchewan and British Columbia to assist with major disasters, from forest fires to floods. Early on in his volunteer days there was one incident that Jim was involved with that tugged on his heart strings and to this day serves as a reminder as to why he remains with disaster management.
Hamilton resident decided to spend his retirement volunteering with Canadian Red Cross
He was assisting a family who had been displaced from their home due to a fire. He could see how frightened one of the young children looked as she sat on the sofa in the home of a family member who had taken them in. Jim went out to the truck to get one of the teddy bears that the Red Cross provides to help comfort children who have been affected by disasters. “I handed her the bear and she didn’t say a word, she just wrapped her arms around it and her eyes said everything,” Jim recounted.

Jim was recently humbled to receive an award for his lifetime of volunteering. In June 2017, he was recognized with a Canada 150 Sesquicentennial Award, presented by MP Bob Bratina, for his dedication to volunteering in the Hamilton community.

When asked why he volunteers, Jim says he has enjoyed a wonderful life and feels that it is his turn to give back and help those who are most vulnerable. “You are dealing with people at the worst time of their life, but you can make a big difference in how they look at the future.”

From February 15 to March 9, Walmart Canada stores across Canada are raising funds to support the Canadian Red Cross' ability to respond to disasters. Visit a store near you to donate to help families in need whenever a disaster strikes.
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