It seems fitting that Jo-Anne Pelzer used to work in the telecommunications business, because she’s reached thousands of individuals through her volunteerism.
Pelzer, who worked for MTS for 35 years before retiring in 2010, was recently among a handful of people to receive awards given out by her former employer in celebration of the 75th anniversary of MTS Volunteers (formerly MTS Pioneers).
MTS Volunteers is a group of current and former company employees and their families who collectively donate more than 50,000 hours annually to support non-profit and charitable organizations across the province.
Pelzer would have received her award at a recent event at the Qualico Family Centre in Assiniboine Park, but because the news came as a surprise, she had already arranged to look after her mother that night.
Organizers say Pelzer, who lives in Fort Rouge, has handcrafted more than 6,000 hats for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. She was working with another group, called Crafters Care, to make the chemotherapy caps when MTS stepped in and offered Pelzer space for volunteers in a company building on Horace Street in St. Boniface, and also offered to buy yarn. There is some overlap between the two groups.
Pelzer’s handiwork hasn’t stopped with caps. Her group’s efforts have evolved into the making items such as quilts, baby blankets, pet blankets and diaper bags.
"For example, I’ll make the diaper bag, another lady will make toys and we’ll fill it with items, including baby bibs, as fast as I can make the bags. We put ads on Kijiji for supplies," Pelzer said, noting around 20 or 25 volunteers typically meet every second Wednesday to work on the projects. "We then give the bags to Villa Rosa."
In terms of the pet blankets, the volunteers acquire the fabric from a garment factory and then distribute the finished blankets to groups such as the Winnipeg Humane Society and D’Arcy’s A.R.C.
Pelzer’s desire for helping others comes from a combination of her upbringing and values and her passion for proactivity and crafts.
"Volunteering is all I’ve ever known. I grew up in rural Manitoba and if it wasn’t for volunteers, whether it was the Sunday school teacher or the baseball coach, life wouldn’t have been the same," Pelzer said, her voice choking up.
"And I don’t like to waste anything. I’m quite a recycler. Also, I love to sew, knit and crochet. I’m not the sort of person whose hands have to be busy. I’m not one to read books. I get satisfaction when I see piles of things accomplished," Pelzer said.
Roslyn Dally, manager of community investment at MTS, said the Horace Street building has become a "fellowship centre" for the volunteers.
Dally said another group of volunteers has been busy archiving the history of MTS and collecting information and photos, as well as old phones and devices.
The Southdale resident said the volunteers provide valuable support during the summer festival season by running a "loaner equipment program," taking on the responsibility of charging and dropping off cellphones or walkie-talkies at events such as the Winnipeg Folk Festival and Winnipeg Fringe Festival, as well as Operation Red Nose in the run-up to Christmas.
"Ultimately, MTS Volunteers has been the heart of MTS since 1938. Collectively, the group has given more than one million volunteer hours since then — and that’s a conservative estimate," Dally said, noting the group is "self-governing, but fully supported by MTS."