‘We’re all in this together” has become a popular sentiment during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dorothy Macintyre believes that it’s true all the time.

‘We’re all in this together" has become a popular sentiment during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dorothy Macintyre believes that it’s true all the time.

"I believe that if everyone would do what they can to be kind and support each other — it doesn’t have to be a lot — there would be a lot less suffering in this world," she says.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Dorothy Macintyre, who has volunteered for almost 20 years with the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association, started volunteering with the chapter shortly after she was diagnosed in spring 2001. Her first role was newsletter editor.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Dorothy Macintyre, who has volunteered for almost 20 years with the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association, started volunteering with the chapter shortly after she was diagnosed in spring 2001. Her first role was newsletter editor.

That belief motivates the 66-year-old Crescentwood resident to volunteer for the Manitoba chapter of the Canadian Celiac Association, which supports people with celiac disease.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes damage to the inner lining of the small bowel and hinders the absorption of essential nutrients.

Sufferers react badly to gluten, the protein component in flour that helps bread and other baked goods bind and prevents crumbling. This feature has made gluten widely used in the production of many processed and packaged foods.

There are more than 200 known symptoms that can affect the digestive system or other parts of the body, which makes the disease difficult to diagnose. About one per cent of Canadians have the disease. It has no cure, but is effectively treated with a life-long gluten-free diet.

Macintyre started volunteering with the chapter shortly after she was diagnosed in spring 2001.

"I first started to volunteer in order to learn about the disease and how to get healthy again," Macintyre, who was quite sick prior to her diagnosis, says. "It’s extremely challenging to navigate the diet because gluten is everywhere, and it’s often present in foods you don’t expect."

"The chapter fulfils an extremely important role in the community, providing celiacs and their families with science-based information about how to live well while following the gluten-free diet," she adds.

Macintyre has volunteered in a variety of capacities over the past 20 years. Her first role was newsletter editor. Later, she joined the board — first as secretary, then vice-president and finally president.

Macintyre has helped organize walkathons, conferences, one-on-one support and quarterly meetings for people navigating a gluten-free lifestyle.

Those quarterly meetings, which are on hold due to current gathering restrictions, have been especially meaningful to her.

"Studies show that being part of a support group contributes greatly to the person’s ability to follow the gluten-free diet and therefore their overall health," Macintyre says. "I really enjoyed participating in the gatherings, meeting people and hearing their stories and being part of an organization that made those opportunities possible."

The Manitoba chapter is celebrating its 40th anniversary this month, which happens to be Celiac Awareness Month.

As part of its celebrations, the chapter is responding to a need in the community.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Harvest Manitoba’s food supply, leaving the organization unable to provide gluten-free options.

In response, the celiac association is partnering with Harvest to seek and obtain gluten-free foods from producers, distributors and individual donors.

Anyone interested in making a donation can visit manitobaceliac.com for details.

Macintyre was part of a group of volunteers that spent the morning of May 8 at Harvest, packing an initial batch of 120 gluten-free hampers. She said was a positive experience.

"I felt very good about having a small part in something that will have a huge impact for recipients of the hampers," Macintyre says. "And it was fun."

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