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Local Lions Club members find 'pride' in serving the community

The Port McNicoll Lions Club started providing holiday feasts to people in need more than 30 years ago and continues that tradition each Christmas season

It’s one of the world’s most recognizable logos. You see it on the welcome signs of towns across Ontario, and in places as far-reaching as Sri Lanka. The yellow and blue logo with two lion heads looking outward means a Lions Club serves to make the community better.

The first Lions Club was founded in 1917 in the United States, and has since expanded to more than 200 countries and geographic regions.

Through fundraising, and volunteering in communities, Lions Club members aim to put kindness into action. Their motto is “we serve.”

Of the 1.4 million men and women who serve, more than 20 came together to form the Port McNicoll chapter in 1980.

Past-president John Lever joined the club in 1986 after seeing the Lions Club’s support in action for his son’s baseball team.

“We approached the club for trophies for the team. They said, 'Tell us how much you need.' Then they made it happen,” says Lever.

Lever was so impressed with the Lions Club’s generosity that he jumped right in, and has been president three times since 1986.

The sense of pride Lever has in his volunteer work for the organization is clear. He explains that wherever disaster strikes, you’ll find the Lions Club helping alongside organizations like the Red Cross.

“We likely arrive (at a place in need) at the same time either with bodies or money,” says Lever.

He explains that when the tornado hit Barrie last year, the Lions Club was there with monetary support.

“Within 24 hours, there was $50,000 funnelled to the club in Barrie. (Port McNicoll) contributed to those funds,” says Lever.

Over the years, he says he’s lost track of the ways the club has contributed to the community — donating hundreds of thousands to the Georgian Bay General Hospital, and more to the local Alzheimer’s Society, Huronia Hospice and other agencies.

It’s the generosity of those that give their time that keeps Lever involved. Members are always available to help at fundraising barbecues, toy drives and any event where help is needed.

One of the ways Lever sees a change in how the club supports the community is during the holiday season.

About 28 years ago, the Port McNicoll Lions Club decided to adopt two families in town. Those families received a holiday feast and toys for the children.

“Then it got to be four or six families, because word gets around. Now, we put out a request early in November for families to contact us,” says Lever.

“It’s grown every year.

Last year, the club supported 28 families in the area, which was the most they’ve ever had. This year, there are 27 families receiving support.

“This year, with 72 kids, that’s the most kids we’ve had (receive toys and food from the drives). Instead of choosing families,” Lever explains, “we put it out there to whoever needs it.”

Each family will get a turkey, potatoes, gravy – everything for a Christmas dinner, and more food from the food drive.

The club sets up a toy drive and food drive every year, and uses funds raised throughout the year to fill in anything the food boxes need.

Lever explains that everything is confidential for those that are asking for support.

“When they phone in, they provide information about the ages, and such of those in the household, but no other member ever learns anything about the families’ private information.”

In the nearly 30 years that Lever has helped with the food and toy drive for the holidays, he says the biggest difference is the amount of single-parent families.

This year, there is a grandmother with five grandchildren, one of whom is under one year old.

“Everyone knows it’s there and it’s there every year,” he says. “For some people, this is their cause. We have one family that must have spent $300 – $400 and wrapped gifts for kids.”

For more information about the club, click here.