Delivering free Chinese food to a family in need on Christmas Eve almost 45 years ago inspired Lily Dyson’s service in the community.

Opinion

Delivering free Chinese food to a family in need on Christmas Eve almost 45 years ago inspired Lily Dyson’s service in the community.

The daughter of Chinese immigrants, Dyson was 16 years old and living in Atikokan, Ont., when her father asked her to come to his restaurant and make the delivery. Dyson was embarrassed, telling her father that people eat turkey at Christmastime, but he insisted.

"He said, ‘That’s what I know how to make the best, so I want to give it to them,’" Dyson recalls. "When I showed up with 40 boxes of Chinese food for 12 people, they were so overjoyed and thankful and grateful."

Now 60 and retired after a career with the Canada Revenue Agency and TransX trucking, Dyson is a prolific volunteer.

She’s made perogies at a Ukrainian Orthodox church as part of a monthly fundraiser, prepared food at Siloam Mission and the NorWest Community Food Centre, answered phone calls at the Christmas Cheer Board and assembled emergency food hampers at Harvest Manitoba.

Helping newcomers is a key part of Dyson’s work in the community.

She’s served as a one-on-one English tutor at the Immigrant Centre, and she’s volunteered with the family matching programs at the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council and Accueil Francophone. These programs connect a Canadian family to a newcomer family so that they can support them as they adjust to life in Canada.

Dyson was inspired to help newcomers after an experience in Superstore prior to her retirement more than 10 years ago. Several newcomers approached her and asked for help finding various items.

"I thought to myself, when I have more time, I am going to try to volunteer with an organization so I can help people like the ones I had just met," Dyson says.

Over the years, Dyson — along with her husband, Bruce, and daughter, Amanda — has supported 13 families from a variety of countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria, Ethiopia, Algeria, Mali and Turkey.

The goal is to make their integration into Canadian society a successful one.

When the Dysons were matched with their first family, they didn’t anticipate how much enjoyment they would get out of the experience.

Now, helping newcomers is a priority.

"Since we have been involved with 13 families, plus a lot of single students through tutoring, I don’t think a day goes by without hearing from one or several of them," Dyson says. "Some just want to see how I am doing. Others need help in some way."

Dyson is always happy to assist any way she can.

"Our door’s always open," she says. "I want to make a difference. It gives me a sense of pride and increases my self-confidence to know I am doing good for others and my community."

Dyson recently started volunteering as a pen pal at Mount Carmel Clinic, and she’s on the lookout for more volunteer opportunities.

She is thankful for that Christmas Eve experience all those years ago and the example her father set by helping people in need.

"My father taught me from an early age to do that kind of thing: Love your neighbours and be kind to them."

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National Volunteer Week, an annual campaign that recognizes and celebrates the work of volunteers across Canada, takes place April 18-24. This year’s theme is "The Value of One, The Power of Many." Learn more at volunteer.ca/nvw.

If you know a special volunteer, please contact aaron.epp@gmail.com.