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South Surrey philanthropists share appetite to help health-care workers

Vern and Helga Höing donate funds for Thanksgiving, Christmas meals at Peace Arch Hospital
Peace Arch Hospital Foundation executive director Stephanie Beck (centre) accepts a $20,000 gift from South Surrey philanthropists Helga and Vern Höing. (Contributed photo)

The bellies of health-care workers at Peace Arch Hospital were filled with all the fixings of Thanksgiving last week following a $20,000 donation from a Semiahmoo Peninsula couple who have contributed more than $2 million to the hospital over many years of giving.

READ MORE: Peace Arch Hospital Foundation hits $10-million goal

And Vern Höing said he hopes the latest gift will feed a desire by others to follow suit.

“He’d like to challenge other businesses and individuals in the community to help support our health care workers by making similar gifts,” Stephanie Beck, executive director of Peace Arch Hospital Foundation, relayed Thursday, at the request of the senior.

“Because we know that mental health and such is taking quite a bit of toll on our health-care workers, so anything we can do to raise their spirits.”

Beck said health-care workers have been without a cafeteria or convenient place nearby to purchase healthy meals on their breaks since the pandemic began. The hospital’s cafeteria was transformed into a COVID-19 testing centre at the outset, and while the area’s seating space has since reopened for socially-distanced staff use, the lack of in-house food service for them continues. Further, the hours and menu of an in-hospital Tim Hortons location remain limited.

While a number of restaurants stepped up to help in the early months of the pandemic, that “tapered out,” Beck added, noting the effort was undertaken in partnership with the foundation, through its COVID relief fund.

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In the spring, the Höings donated $20,000 to help fill that staff-meal gap, and Beck said they repeated the gift at the end of September – funds that were used to provide the workers with Thanksgiving meals, as well as meals throughout the week of Oct. 18; 1,100 in all.

Due to visitor and vaccine restrictions, meals funded by donations are now handled by the cafeteria and distributed through a system whereby department managers pick them up for their teams.

Asked by the Höings to arrange an opportunity to see the logistics of the food-service operations for themselves, Beck learned of the couple’s plan to offer even more support when she phoned to extend an invitation for an Oct. 20 visit.

During that call, Vern Höing “told me he was going to come with another cheque,” she said.

The donation brings the Höings’ support for frontline-worker meals to $67,000 over the past 18 months.

And while the sum may be just a drop in the $2 million-plus pool that the philanthropists have given to help purchase state-of-the-art equipment and support hospital projects over the years – not to mention sundry other funds that they’ve donated in support of other organizations and causes in the community – Beck said the impact the generosity has had on staff is priceless.

“We do have a COVID ward in our hospital, and staff do see COVID patients, so it’s taking a toll on the health-care workers, just like you hear in all the other centres as well,” she said.

“So for the Höings to be able to make this gift, it really raises the spirits of the staff. We’ve gotten just a multitude of thank you notes and comments left from our staff in appreciation to the Höings.”

The surprise additional $20,000 will fund meals for staff at Christmastime, she added.

Asked what drives the Höings’ generosity, Beck said it’s simply their way of giving back.

“(Vern’s) most famous quote is ‘giving is the reason for living’ – he always says that,” Beck said. “He enjoys it, it makes him and Helga feel good doing that.

“He came to this country and made his own successful business. Because the community’s been so good to him, he’s being good to the community as well,” she continued.

“It’s inspirational.”

For more information on the foundation, visit
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Tracy Holmes

About the Author: Tracy Holmes

Tracy Holmes has been a reporter with Peace Arch News since 1997.
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