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Long-time food bank co-ordinator is now retiring

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Joan Clarkson transitioned in June after almost 12 years as co-ordinator at the Helping Hand Food Bank to a newly created position of community relations coordinator.

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But on Aug. 31, Clarkson will be starting another stage in her life: retirement.

“It’s official now – it will be on Monday, Aug. 31,” smiled Clarkson, sitting in the food bank office that had been her second home for more than a decade.

“I’m adjusting to it. For the first little while it felt like my heart’s been ripped out of me, but I think the person who replaced me (Dianne Clark) will do a good job. I’ve got to restart my life. I’ve got to find something to do, to keep me busy, but won’t have the stress and everything that goes with running a place like this.”

The 77-year-old Clarkson had considered going back to the Tillsonburg District Memorial Hospital to work in the coffee shop where she volunteered for a couple of years before being recruited by Marion Pratt to the food bank.

“They’re not letting volunteers in yet,” Clarkson noted. “So I’ll wait and see what happens.”

The food bank was where her heart was, and she said she had planned to stay indefinitely.

“I intended to be here until I dropped, but the pandemic has put a different light on things, not just for myself, but for my husband who has congestive heart failure and other things. He cannot be exposed to it, and I can’t risk taking it home to him. And I can’t risk it myself. So it’s kind of hard. I wanted to be like Marion Pratt and stay until the very end. And it’s just not going to be… and it makes me very sad.”

Over the years, Clarkson has enjoyed the family atmosphere among food bank volunteers.

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“I love all the people here and I will miss them. I will miss them like crazy. They were all my ‘boss,’ I didn’t fool myself thinking I was telling them what to do. They all know what to do, they’ve been running it perfectly since I left (as co-ordinator).”

There are thousands of people Clarkson wanted to thank personally, but that would be an enormous task.

“The people who bring in food donations,” Clarkson nodded. “There are some people out there, that if I do need help financially or otherwise, I can call and I can get it. Just like that. They are generous. I have people who would phone me up and say, ‘do you need money this month?’ And I tell them whether I do or I don’t.

“To the lady that’s in her frequently – if I’m out shopping in the grocery store she will walk over to me and hand me a $50 bill, ‘go spend it on food.’ To the managers of the grocery stores… everybody. The people on town council, the mayor, they’ve all been so caring about what happens at this food bank. It makes such a difference.”

The transition to the new coordinator should be a smooth one, said Clarkson.

“I talked to Dianne two weeks ago and told her she could call me anytime … because things are going to happen in the next year that happen once a year, and you need to know about them.”

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