June 13, 2012 - Volunteers are the backbone and lifeblood of most charitable organizations and that's especially true in the case of Oxford-Orion FISH, which has been feeding the area's needy since the 1970s.
Receiving 2012 “Advocate of the Needy” awards are (from left) Oxford resident Dianne Offer and Lake Orion residents John and Nadine Lychuk. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
That's why it's important to recognize those who give so much of themselves to others and ask for nothing in return.
Last week, FISH honored four such selfless individuals with "Advocate of the Needy" awards for the vital roles they've played in keeping stomachs full of food and hearts full of hope.
Recipients included Oxford resident Dianne Offer, Lake Orion residents John and Nadine Lychuk, and Kathy Aubin, of Addison Township.
Offer began working for FISH as an office volunteer, but her skills and dedication quickly led to her becoming the office manager. Using her expertise as an interior designer, she transformed the FISH office into an efficient, visually appealing and comfortable workplace for the volunteers.
"It's an honor to be recognized by this organization because there are so many people that are worthy of this award and I'm the least of them," Offer said. "There's lot of people that deserve an award from this organization, lots of people that help."
When asked why she chose to donate her time and effort to FISH, Offer replied, "It's probably the best organization for giving back to our community because everything goes directly to our community and the people who need help."
John Lychuk devoted approximately 20 years of his life to FISH as a "jack of all trades," working in the pantry, serving on the group's board of directors and coordinating rides for folks who needed transportation for medical appointments and such. He's also been a top recruiter for FISH, finding many new volunteers to fill in wherever they were needed.
"It's nice to be recognized for my 20 years," he said. "It really feels special to be honored.
"The amount of people that (FISH) helps is amazing. There's so many needy people in the world and a lot of them are here. It's a privilege to be able to help these people. I loved seeing their faces when they got the food they need. It's been rewarding for me."
John is hopeful that a new generation of volunteers will step up to keep FISH going.
"Let some younger people come in and do the job," he said.
Also honored was John's wife and fellow FISH volunteer Nadine Lychuk. For approximately 17 years, she served as a phone volunteer, pantry worker and speaker on behalf of FISH. She and John made for a "devoted team."
"After my first husband died, I wanted to feel needed," Nadine explained. "I worked for hospice for a little while, then started with FISH. Actually, it was John that got me involved. It's just a good feeling to know you're helping others and it also keeps you busy."
"FISH is such a big part of our community," she continued. "It's something that really helps out a lot. Once a week, you're part of helping people get food. I hope the volunteers keep coming and we keep it up."
Aubin spent 12 years with FISH as a pantry worker. She was the founder and coordinator of the group's furniture ministry until that operation was turned over to Love INC. She also served as co-president of the group at one time.
Of receiving this award, Aubin said, "It's lovely that my co-workers have honored my efforts, but honestly, we're all just doing what we're supposed to be doing."
It was her daughter Taylor, who's now 20 years old, that got Aubin involved in FISH. "I just kind of fell into it because it was something that we we're doing through her homeschooling and we just continued on throughout the years," she said.
Aubin likes the fact that FISH is operated entirely by volunteers who receive no pay or benefits.
"It draws the kind of people that aren't looking for advancement – nobody's looking to be head chief," she said. "There's no benefit other than the fact that they're serving people. I just think that's a wonderful way to serve your community."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.