Once when Judy Riley was in the car with her son, she saw “a man pushing a buggy,” and asked her son to pull over.
“I said, ‘Would you like some lunch’?” she told ThoroldToday, and handed him two bags of food, which she happened to have in her car, having just hosted a weekly free lunch at her church.
“He said, ‘I’d love some,’ she recalled; ‘God bless both of you’."
Whether handing out food to the homeless or raising thousands of dollars for St. John’s Anglican Church, the senior volunteer’s energy seems to know no bounds.
In the past seven years, she and her husband John have spearheaded a fundraising gift card program at St. John’s, which has brought in about $7,000 for the Thorold church.
The couple has made their home in Merritton since 1976 and been active at St. John’s for 17 years.
And after 55 years of marriage, John has become accustomed to her charitable lifestyle. He often asks her, “Okay, now what do I have to do?”
Sponsored by companies like Canadian Tire and Tim Horton’s, the gift card program allows parishioners to purchase gift cards from the Rileys at regular cost, to redeem at those stores. The companies donate a percentage of funds directly back to the church.
“We earn sometimes up to eight or nine per cent,” she explained, adding, “To me, it’s mandatory that 10 per cent goes back to help the community, because they support us so strongly” when the church hosts its frequent meat pie and butter tart sales.
Partial profits from the church fundraising often gets donated to Community Care, “or if we know of a family that’s in dire need," said Riley. “We have helped the backpack program, and with winter coats.”
And not surprisingly, Riley chairs the church’s ongoing meat pie program, which has become a huge success due to word of mouth advertising.
“I have a great team, and for our last sale we baked and made $800 worth of butter tarts. We just baked 500 tart shells and are getting ready to do turkey and chicken and turkey and beef meat pies.”
Orders can be placed through the St. John’s Church website, or through Canada Helps, she said, adding, “Our next sale will be around Sept. 12.”
The Rileys also buy food and organize volunteers to host free weekly Community Lunches at St. John’s on Sundays, which helps the financially struggling and “people who don’t cook, like seniors, but it’s open to anybody.”
“In winter, it’s hot soup,” she said, adding that lunches include fresh fruit and baked goods as well.
“Even during Covid, we have given bag lunches in a safe manner. We have not missed a week.”
Despite having two sons, six grandchildren, and an extremely active volunteer life, Riley somehow still finds time to sew fashionable ladies’ purses and fun children’s clothing, which she sells at outdoor markets in Port Colborne, Stevensville, and Ridgeway.
“I do a lot of charity work outside of the church as well. A saying from my dad is: ‘If whatever you’re doing makes a person smile, it’s worth doing’.”