Nel Peach has received many awards in the past from Diabetes Canada and now she is the Canadian ‘Volunteer of the Year’ for 2017. (Photo contributed)

Friends & Neighbours: Volunteer honoured by Diabetes Canada

By Leah Blain, Observer contributor

Thirty-five years ago Petronella (Nel) Peach was diagnosed with diabetes and for those 35 years she has been one of its most dedicated fundraisers. Despite the many awards, certificates and recognitions she has received over the years, Nel was surprised to read her email from Diabetes Canada telling her that she is being awarded the national volunteer of the year award for 2017.

“I thought, ‘I can’t believe this, this is awesome.’ I was a bit awestruck,” she says with a huge smile.

Nel was born in Haarlem, Netherlands in 1940 and immigrated to Canada when she was 23. She worked in the food service industry and eventually moved to New Westminster where she worked as director of food services at St. Mary’s Hospital. Over the years Nel’s dedication took her fundraising efforts down many paths and even overseas but she started very simply, volunteering where she could.

“I started out with car raffles. I was working full time but I helped with car raffles in the Lougheed Mall and I was a mall captain. I could do that a bit.”

Retirement to Salmon Arm in 1999 was just a trajectory into more volunteer hours. There was no job too small or tedious nor any challenge too daunting. From going door to door asking for donations to contacting politicians to training for a marathon for Team Diabetes and everything in-between, Nel tackled everything with her characteristic passionate and energetic enthusiasm. In 2004 she joined Team Diabetes, a national activity fundraising program for Diabetes Canada. She took part in the race in Honolulu and for years she trained, did fundraising and took part in races until 2015. Once she did a full marathon.

“I retired from the team in 2015. I have osteoarthritis and its really slowing me down,” she says. But this year the funds are going to fund a diabetes camp for children so Nel, not surprisingly, is coming out of Team Diabetes retirement. Although 11 million Canadians have diabetes, Nel says awareness and fundraising are declining and many offices have shut down through lack of funding.

“When I read it’s funds raised are for kids to go to camp I thought, ‘I have to get off my butt.’ It’s very costly to attend a diabetes camp because they have costly medical staff, nurses have to know how to use an insulin pump and they need glucose monitoring through the night. During the night is the most dangerous time to have low blood sugar – they can actually die. And when kids are at camp, it gives mom and dad a holiday.”

The event this year is in Honolulu, again, in December. Nel pays her own transportation and she has to fundraise $5,500 to take part in the race.

“I’m not in good shape,” she says smiling referring to her arthritis that has slowed her down, “but I will do a walk – a ‘merry mile.’ It’s for kids to go to camp.”

To contact Nel to find out more or to donate contact her at 250-832-9735 or check out her Facebook page, Petronella Peach.

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