SIRCH Community Services’ Judith Bamford packages blueberry crisps at SIRCH Central. The desserts were made with fresh fruit and distributed for free to the community as part of SIRCH’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization received a generous donation from NHL player Matt Duchene, which allowed them to distribute more than 5,000 servings of fresh fruit. /Photo submitted

Duchene gives the gift of fruit through generous donation to SIRCH

Submitted by SIRCH Community Services

When the COVID-19 pandemic brought the Haliburton economy to a grinding halt, NHL player Matt Duchene knew he wanted to do something to help the place he called home.

“When the pandemic hit I thought about those in our community who would be struggling because of not being able to go to work, being laid off, etc and I just felt the need to do something,” he said.

Matt grew up in Haliburton County and although he now lives in Nashville, his parents live, work and volunteer in this community. His mother, Chris Duchene, contacted SIRCH on Matt’s behalf to ask what needs SIRCH was seeing that were not already being met, especially around food security.

Gena Robertson, executive director of SIRCH Community Services, did an informal poll of various service providers in the community. She also polled her own staff and volunteers who cook the free, healthy meals and soups SIRCH gives out. Prepared meals are essential for those with disabilities, anxiety, lack of cooking skills or resources, and for those who are ill, homeless and elderly.

The answer was fruit. Many vulnerable individuals were not getting enough fruit in their diet because of its prohibitive cost.

“Initially, when the pandemic closed everything down, SIRCH just responded to the need for food in the county. We upped our meal production to over 2,000 meals a month,” Robertson said “What was missing though was fruit, and we know that if people are struggling to pay for food, fruit goes to the bottom of the list because it’s too expensive.”

SIRCH used Matt’s generous donation of $15,000 specifically to offer free servings of fruit (fresh fruit and fruit crisps/desserts) along with the free SIRCH meals.

“I was very excited to be able to help my community in such a time of need,” said Duchene.

Since May 5, SIRCH has given out 5,100 servings of fruit, thanks to Duchene’s generosity. As well, thanks to many other donations and grants, from mid-March to mid-September, SIRCH has given out 12,000 free meals, along with 4,100 soups.

“It’s been amazing to see how organizations like SIRCH have kept so many afloat during this unprecedented, unforeseen time,” said Matt. “I’ve seen people and organizations come together, whether it be back in Nashville or here in Haliburton and provide things for people that we all usually take for granted. It’s been hard on everyone but I think as human beings we can come out of this with a new appreciation for the little things and for helping each other.”

Robertson said she believes that when given the opportunity to help a community or your neighbour, most people will gladly step up. But even so, she was still amazed at the generosity that SIRCH has experienced over the past few months.

“Fifty-five per cent of our donations were from Haliburton County, even though our county was devastated by closures, layoffs and uncertainty,” she said. “Thirty per cent were from outside the county, largely we believe from summer residents who care deeply about the community. Matt’s donation was thoughtful and very much appreciated.  We heard again and again that the servings of fruit made such a difference!”

Duchene has made a difference not only to SIRCH Community Services but to many local organizations and causes he believes in over the years.
“I’ve been blessed to play a game I love for a living and be well off financially from it, so I honestly feel like it’s a responsibility to help make the world a better place if I can. Being able to give back and help others is truly a gift. God has blessed my life so much and being able to give back to my home community of Haliburton and my new home in Nashville means the world to me.”

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