The Pink Ladies are a passionate and dedicated group of volunteers at Coffs Harbour Base Hospital who run the coffee shop, gift shop and treat carts. Helen Mears is the President of the Pink Ladies and has given 40 years of service to the hospital. The funds raised go directly back into the hospital, to provide equipment where it is needed.
Hi Helen. Can you tell us about your connection with the Coffs Coast and the community here?
I’ve lived in Coffs Harbour for the past 46 years, moving here from Parkes via Broken Hill and Cronulla. My husband managed OPSM stores, which brought us to Coffs when our children were quite young. We feel lucky to have seen our family grow up in this beautiful part of the world, and we feel privileged to call the Coffs Coast home.
Can you tell us about who the Pink Ladies are and what they do?
The Pink Ladies are volunteers who run the coffee shop at the hospital, the gift shop, and who take the treats and newspaper trolley around to patients every day. We also take care of the flowers delivered to patients. We give the hospital about 80,000 volunteer hours each year.
The profits from the coffee shop and the gift shop are donated straight back to the hospital in the form of equipment, such as medical monitoring equipment, patient mobility equipment, birthing beds, treatment chairs and highly specialised items for the operating theatres. Last year our fundraising efforts resulted in $167,000 worth of equipment being donated, which wouldn’t have happened without the community and hospital staff supporting our café and gift shop. Since 2001, that support has helped us raise well over $2 million for our hospital.
What is your role with the Pink Ladies, and what sort of tasks do you do?
As the group’s President, I do a bit of everything — from working on the trolley to working in the coffee shop and gift shop. In the coffee shop, I work on the till. In the gift shop, I serve customers, make sure stock is available, do the purchasing and work with the volunteers to ensure we have the handmade craft items that visitors like to buy. I’m very grateful for the community donations to the gift shop, as this is a great help with our fundraising efforts.
I also work with our volunteers and staff to assess funding requests for equipment upgrades, emergency replacement of equipment and speciality devices. When vacancies appear on the volunteers’ roster, I step in to fill them and help plan our fundraising stalls, such as the Valentine’s Day stall and health promotion stalls at the hospital, which raise public awareness for events such as Falls Prevention Week and Brain Injury Week.
How did it all start? Did the idea originate here in Coffs?
The United Hospital Auxiliaries of NSW has about 190 branches, including Coffs. The organisation started in 1933 by women’s activist and Red Cross administrator Eleanor McKinnon OBE, as a way to support the needs of health facilities throughout NSW. All money raised by each branch stays in their community. The Coffs branch has been around for a long time, serving at the old base hospital in Victoria Street, where our first coffee shop started in the old social club rooms.
How long have you been volunteering, and how did you get involved?
I started volunteering in Girl Guides when our children were little, then volunteered in school canteens at Orara and Jetty High schools, and Narranga and St Augustine’s Primary schools … basically wherever the children were. A friend talked me into volunteering as a Pink Lady at Coffs Harbour hospital back in 1979. Yes, it’s been 40 years — 27 of which I have served as branch president, but I volunteer because I absolutely love it.
How has the hospital and what you do changed over the time you’ve been a part of the Pink Ladies?
The hospital has changed enormously, not only in its location but its sheer size, the number of staff, the number and range of specialities and even the size of the coffee shop. I remember at the old hospital; I used to get excited about the day’s takings reaching $50. Now we’re taking about $150,000 every year. The new expansion will be the next exciting chapter for the hospital, and for the Pink Ladies with our new coffee shop to have much more room for customers, as well as a bigger and better food preparation area for the volunteers. We’re all very excited.
What do you find most enjoyable or rewarding about volunteering?
I just enjoy meeting patients and visitors. I love talking to them and doing anything I can to make their hospital stay more comfortable. A lot of friendships have been formed over the years with visitors and staff, and I have the Pink Ladies to thank for that.
Why do you think it is important to continue providing this service?
A lot of patients simply don’t have anyone to buy little treats for them or have visitors because their families live elsewhere. Contact with someone who is friendly makes a big difference to these patients. They can always get a friendly smile from our Pink Ladies and enjoy a chat.
How do people go about volunteering or getting involved?
We are always ready to welcome new members. It’s a big hospital with lots of patients, which means we need lots of members. There’s opportunities to volunteer directly with patients, in the coffee shop, gift shop and on other fundraising initiatives. Any age, men and women … everyone is welcome. I’d love to hear from anyone who wants to make a difference.
The best way to find out more is to give me a call on 6652 2827. If I’m not available, leave a message. I will definitely get back to you.