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The Auxiliary to the Lions Gate Hospital has been supporting local health care for 100 years (PHOTOS)

Organization provides thousands of volunteer hours every year

This article has been amended since first posting. 

Before the days of smartphones, social media and endless everything, Kathy Butterfield was one of several generous souls who could be counted on in a pinch to help capture you and your newborn’s first precious moments together.

At 23, Butterfield was a young mom looking to give back to her community when she wasn’t busy with her own blossoming family.  

She started volunteering at the nursery of her local hospital a few times a month. It was 1960. North Vancouver General was about to become Lions Gate Hospital, and Butterfield was about to become a lifelong volunteer.

“We bought a Polaroid camera. We took and sold baby pictures. We’d stand out in the hall counting to 75 – with your fingers crossed that you’d done it right and it would turn out OK,” recalls Butterfield, of her first volunteer role.

The photos always turned out better than OK – they were treasured mementos for the families and the proceeds would help fund countless hospital improvements over the years.

Now 84, Butterfield continues to volunteer in order to support North Shore health care. She’s been at it for 61 straight years. “If you could go out of your way and help somebody who’s really upset and needed a little TLC, that was wonderful – a few nice words and a little help with directions,” she says, remembering another stint volunteering at the hospital information desk.

It all happened by chance. The reason Butterfield has been able to apply her helping hands to charity over the years is because a friend first told her to come to a special meeting for a volunteer non-profit dedicated to supporting local health care one fateful day in 1960.

That non-profit, the Auxiliary to the Lions Gate Hospital, is celebrating its centenary this year. It’s one of the North Shore’s longest-serving volunteer organizations.

100 years of support

Over the century, volunteers have provided literally countless hours of support to patients and staff, as well as made significant donations of funds and crucial equipment.

The Auxiliary was officially formed in May 1921, when 26 founding members gathered at North Vancouver City Hall to form a ladies auxiliary to support health care in their community.

“One of their first purchases was for fabric – back in June of 1921 – and mattresses,” explains Lee Ann Lambert, the current president of the Auxiliary to the Lions Gate Hospital. “They were sewing the mattresses and bed-side tables and pillows and things like that. They also provided hospital furnishings and made donations to an X-ray fund.”

The ladies would visit with patients, offering them fruit and magazines and a little bed-side company – basically, the little things that make a big difference.

In 1929, when the three-storey, 100-bed North Vancouver General Hospital first opened, the ladies helped by supplying the hospital with linens and mending the gowns of doctors and patients.

In 1965, men were invited to become auxiliary members.

As the years progressed, so did the endeavours of the Auxiliary, which early on was divided into several branches (the Women’s Auxiliary, the Junior Auxiliary, etc.) before coming under one banner by 1977. A thrift shop was opened at 15th and Lonsdale in 1982.

From the Thirties onward, the number of charitable initiatives the auxiliary has been a part of or spearheaded has been staggering: they’ve raised money for blankets for ambulances; knitted baby garments for the nursery; helped provide funds for follow-up care; provided child-minding services to visitors; given tours of the hospital; assisted residents of Evergreen House; and held numerous fundraisers and events to help the hospital invest in patient care equipment or initiatives – and that's just listing a few items from throughout the decades.

“I think it’s significant that in the last five years our contributions have surpassed $1.2 million – and that includes the year of the pandemic,” notes Lambert, adding that the auxiliary currently has more than 200 volunteers who contribute anywhere from 25,000 to 29,000 volunteer hours every year.

From the chemotherapy clinic to the emergency department, there are close to 20 areas within the hospital where volunteers do work – from offering coffee, cookies and general pleasantries, to wayfinding and operating the general information desk. Through its initiatives, the auxiliary has also contributed $300,000 to the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation to support the $166-million hospital expansion.

“Often when [patients or visitors] come in, often they’re a little bit nervous. It’s really nice to have a friendly face and somebody who can help them and take the time to do that,” says Lambert.

A helping hand

Of the hundreds of auxiliary volunteers – you can recognize them with their blue jackets and big smiles – approximately a quarter of them have been with the organization for more than 20 years, with contributors like Butterfield being there among the longest.

“Christmas decorating – that was the best. We’d do every floor. I’m a Christmas addict,” recalls Butterfield.

For the last 38 years, Butterfield’s main volunteer role has been at the Auxiliary Dogwood Gift Shop in the hospital atrium. 

It’s been her job to change the window display every week to reflect the seasons and holidays, she notes.

“In a normal year, every Thursday,” she says.

As we all know, this has been anything but a normal year. The pandemic has put a stop to many volunteer jobs for the time being, and the auxiliary has not been exempt – for both the safety of patients and the volunteers themselves.

While some volunteer roles have resumed at the auxiliary, Butterfield has remained sidelined, at least until the pandemic poses less of a threat.

She’s made countless friends and contributed thousands of volunteer hours over the years. She’s made a huge difference through small gestures and a big heart, and she looks forward to getting back to work as soon as she can.

“It’s been very frustrating. I haven’t been in since March 4, 2020. Every time the season changes, I want to be doing those windows,” she says. “It’s very rewarding.”