Big-hearted women are working to meet big needs in Pictou County, and they are doing it confidentially.
Pictou County Helpers has neither office, nor staff, nor budget but for the last nine months this small group of busy women has helped many people, either directly or by connecting them to existing services. They have provided a steady supply of food, countless bags of diapers, clothing and household necessities. Sometimes they have also provided beds and bedding.
Although it is well outside the scope of their mission, they even found a woman in Edmonton to open her home to a Pictou County family who had to travel to be with an injured family member.
At the nucleus of the group is Andrea Fuller, Lynn Arsenault, Gillian Gellately and Maggie Jamieson; they have another handful of members who help as much as they are able. They also have 2,000 followers on their Facebook page and they number many kind souls among those thousands.
Andrea Fuller of Pictou was driven to do something helpful when Daniel, her friend Lynn Arsenault’s son, who had muscular dystrophy, died last December.
“Lynn and I are both nurses and we worked together in Truro hospital for years. I knew Daniel’s kindness very well,” said Fuller.
Lynn Arsenault of Trenton, said Daniel practiced acts of kindness throughout his short life.
“He was quiet and always listening and many times he came to me with stories of school kids needing things. We’d get what was needed or I’d talk to a few friends and we’d go together and get it and it would be done quietly,” she said.
When Fuller approached Arsenault about a helping service, she loved the idea but wasn’t sure she had the energy.
“She told me she was in but she’d have to take a back seat for a while. I understood but I also knew Lynn could never be out of the drivers’ seat for long, and she hasn’t been,” said Fuller.
Jillian Gellately, New Glasgow, joined them early in her maternity leave.
“I work for Eastern Mainland Housing Authority and I often see people who need more than the rules allow us to provide, so this group is my way of making up for some of the things I wish I could do at work.”
When someone contacts the helpers by Facebook or phone, they ask some questions and most often, they offer help.
“If we have money on hand, we’ll get them the diapers and food or whatever they need and one of us will deliver,” said Fuller.
If they don’t have money or goods on hand, they’ll post the family’s need on Facebook and get community help. Facebook followers or other contacts will offer to provide some or all of what is needed, and will be directed to the group’s dropoff location. Others will offer gift cards or cash while still others will send money transfers electronically.
“Thankfully for us, there are a lot of people in Pictou County who are only too happy to pick up some extra groceries or send a donation. So far it always works out,” said Arsenault.
In the helpers’ experience, the people who reach out are often desperate.
“We’ve had quite a few mothers who call us when they are down to one or two diapers and that is heart-breaking. It can also be hard for us to respond quickly enough so we’ve begun keeping a stock of diapers in all sizes so we can get them to families faster,” said Gellately.
Sometimes people call asking for help that the organization can’t provide.
“We keep a directory of what services are in the community and we can usually put them in contact with someone who can help. Just hearing them out and giving them a direction to move in can be a big relief,” said Fuller.
"Having a conversation with a non-judgmental outsider can also help callers identify problems they can change for the better, she added.
“We ask questions and we listen but our purpose is to figure out what help is needed. We’re not here to judge anyone.”
Gellately has met individuals and families she has maintained contact with through difficult periods. She added most help recipients find touching ways to show their appreciation.
“I think some people are uplifted to know there is someone taking a personal interest, someone who will try to help,” she said.
Arsenault pointed out there are many in the community who are intimidated by asking for help, don’t know to get through all the hoops sometimes required to access the right program, or are too exhausted by their situations to conduct their own searches.
“As a mother of a child who spent a great deal of time in the medical system, for example, I know my way around better than someone who is just starting out. That is one particular field where I have a lot of practical experience I am happy to share.”
The members can recount a few examples of people trying to take advantage of what they offer but the number has been very small in comparison to the numbers helped. While those looking for food are asked to first make use of the local food banks, they fill the gaps in food budgets. The need for food following Hurricane Dorian certainly taxed the group.
“We had so many requests from people who lost food they couldn’t afford to replace. Fortunately, we also had lots of people who helped them get through that stretch,” said Fuller.
Pictou County Helpers is in the process of becoming a registered charity. It is also looking for a few new members — like-minded people who believe in kindness and confidentiality.
Rosalie MacEachern is a Stellarton resident and freelance writer. She seeks out people who work behind the scenes on hobbies or jobs that they love the most. If you know someone you think she should profile in an upcoming article, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org