Pot of gold for hospice

Pot Luck Ceramics donates largest cheque yet to Ty Watson House.

Helma Swinkels

Helma Swinkels

Pot Luck Ceramics has donated $30,000 to the Ty Watson House hospice—enough to pay all the kitchen staff wages, says hospice house manager Chris Mellin.

This is Pot Luck Ceramics’ largest donation yet to the hospice—it has donated $110,000 to both the hospice and the Better At Home program since 2012, says its founder, Helma Swinkels.

Pot Luck Ceramics operates under the Port Alberni Fundraising Coop, which has not-for-profit status. This means coop members don’t receive any dividend or other financial benefit, but the coop creates revenue through their business—a ceramic store located on Gertrude Street that sells ceramic cookware imported from Spain.

When Ty Watson House opened in February 2008, in a barn on Cowley Road, Swinkels—then a hospice volunteer—was in charge of the kitchen.

“I still remember that very first day when the first residents were coming in,” Swinkels recalled.

“We asked the residents where they would like to eat and everyone said ‘the kitchen’. The kitchen is the heart of the home.”

Jan Cole, chair of the AV Hospice Society, agrees.

“The kitchen is very important to the integrity of the society,” says its chair, Jan Cole. “It makes us different than an institution.”

People who have moved to the hospice may have different dietary needs, Swinkels said—they are at the end of their life, and they may only be able to eat certain foods. And maybe they’d like to have a beer with dinner, or a steak once in a while.

“Because of the circumstances of them being here, it’s comforting,” Mellin said of the kitchen and the way the kitchen is run at Ty Watson house. “It’s comforting.”

Every kind of event is celebrated, many of the activities happening in the kitchen. Favourite foods are requested and received. It is a joyful place despite the sober circumstances.

Mellin’s husband Ben spent a year at Ty Watson House—an unusual circumstance, due to the nature of his illness—so as house manager she sees the hospice from a different perspective.

“When I was here with Ben, things just seemed to happen. Now I’m on the other side and holy moley, the work that goes into these things; I had no concept,” Mellin said.

“I know now what it takes to run this house and it’s so amazing.”

Ty Watson House opened in 2008 and has four beds. There are 49 volunteers who work in the kitchen.

Pot Luck Ceramics also relies on volunteers to keep the doors to its Gertrude Street cottage open. Pot Luck moved to Gertrude last July after starting out in a barn on Swinkels’ property.

Since moving to a busier part of Port Alberni and staying open more hours, business has really taken off, Swinkels said.

The $30,000 donation came from a year when Pot Luck renovated the cottage and moved from one location to the other. They have already seen a 40 per cent increase in the second half of their first year at the new location.

Swinkels is not one to look too far into the future—”To me, this is still a beginning,” she says—but Pot Luck Ceramics has gained national attention with its 2014 finalist ranking for a Prime Minister Volunteer Award in the Social Innovation category, and was a 2013 Vancouver Island Business Excellence Award winner for Community Leader. She is cautiously optimistic that the coop will be able to keep donating to Ty Watson House and perhaps other organizations down the road.

“This is the best part,” Swinkels said as she handed over the cheque. “This is our reward, to be able to give that away.”

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