A love of driving and a desire to help is what keeps Totara Hospice volunteer Chris Ridley behind the wheel…
It was a chance moment over jam that led Chris Ridley to become one of Totara Hospice’s dedicated volunteers – a role in which he finds a lot of satisfaction.
Chris, who is in his 70s, lives in The Gardens with his wife, Maxine. He is a regular driver for Hospice and also helps out with parking at fundraising events and distribution of Christmas hams. The couple’s first contact with Totara Hospice came when Maxine’s mother received support there before she passed away from liver cancer. Chris was then primary caregiver for his mother before she too, died, aged 99.
“By the time I got my breath back from all ofthose things I thought, ‘What can I do now?’ and my mind went to the place up the road,” says Chris. An unexpected encounter when he and Maxine went along to watch the annual Totara Hospice Sunrise Walk gave him his answer.
“There was a girl selling pots of jam,” explains Chris. “She was selling one for $5 and three for $10, but people were shying away from the three for $10 because she didn’t have any bags to put them in. So, we dived home, got some plastic bags and gave her a hand on the stall and her sales jumped.”
Chris says he got such enjoyment from helping that when he saw an application form for volunteer drivers at Hospice he signed up straight away. “I used to do a lot of driving… so thought I could put that skill to good work.”
Now, Chris drives Totara Hospice patients to medical appointments around the South Auckland region, into the city and sometimes even further afield: “For a couple of years I’ve been taking a patient to Hampton Downs for what I call ‘The Bucket List game’ where they can go down and ‘fill their bucket’ full of things they wish they’d done. They can go up on a helicopter ride, or on the back of a motorbike, or in a racing car. They have a slap-up lunch and the volunteers have a pretty good time too – because when they’re out on the road we’re out on the road.”
But Chris also acknowledges the reality of his role. “I’ve been really enjoying it and sometimes become attached to the people. There was someone I was driving and all of a sudden I’ve been told ‘She’s moved on to ambulance care’; she can’t go in a car. You recognise with regret, but you’ve got to be pragmatic.”
Drivers are always in demand at Totara Hospice, and Chris says it’s a great starting point for anyone with time on their hands. He has been volunteering for around four years and says it’s hugely rewarding. “You may give a bit but you get 110 per cent back, because the sense of satisfaction and usefulness coming out of a retiree being able to do something constructive and productive is overwhelmingly satisfying. If you’re prepared to give the gift of your time then it is worth gold.”