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Helpers: Volunteering helped her stave off loneliness, but it became so much more

This week we’re highlighting the good work of Garson senior Doreen Merkas
For Doreen Merkas, volunteering became a way to avoid loneliness after her husband’s passing. (Image: Marlene Holkko Moore)

Living alone has its advantages and disadvantages, but Garson senior Doreen Merkas is making the best of life’s ups and downs and enjoying a lifestyle of service to others.

After her husband’s passing in 1995, Merkas decided to dedicate more time to volunteering. Her grown children and their families live across Canada, so becoming more involved in her community was also a way to avoid loneliness.

The first organization Merkas became involved with was the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the official international development and social justice arm of the Catholic Church in Canada. During the past 50 years and with financial assistance from local parishes, individuals and government grants, it has supported more than 15,000 local initiatives in more than 70 countries. Merkas takes great pride in her role as secretary of the diocesan council.

Very active in her church, St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Parish, Merkas serves as the chair of the parish Catholic Women’s League. She also established a Parish Care Team whose members pay visits to nursing home residents and house-bound or ill parishioners.

St. John’s has also benefited from Merkas’ passion for gardening. Residents and parishioners alike admired the flower beds she planted and tended on church property for 17 years. 

“If my knees weren’t so bad, I’d still be taking care of them,” she said.

She credits her priest as her volunteer mentor.

“I was mentored by our parish priest, the late Father Charles Mathieu,” said Merkas. “He was the one who inspired me to get involved in the Development and Peace campaign. Father always encouraged and supported me in my efforts. I’m very blessed to have known him as my dearest friend.”

Merkas’ involvement in palliative care dates back to 1996 and continues to this day. 

“In those early years as a volunteer with the Sudbury Regional Palliative Care Association and then Warmhearts, it was my privilege and honour to sit at the bedside of clients and help provide comfort and companionship … and to let them know they’re not alone.”

When Warmhearts merged into Maison McCulloch Hospice in 2014, Merkas welcomed the opportunity to carry on her volunteer work. Initially, she spent time with clients in their homes and in hospital, as well as at the hospice, but when she could no longer safely help physically, Merkas took on a different responsibility. She became part of the group in Supportive Care that follows up with families who have lost a loved one. 

“We stay in touch for up to a year, phoning them every few months to see how they are and if there’s anything we can do,” said Merkas, adding, “We make sure they know about the hospice’s grief support services and the monthly sessions that are available to them.”

Merkas deeply respects Angela Paquin and Barb Pineau for their compassion and inspiration. She and Paquin have volunteered together in palliative care since the mid-1990s, while Pineau is a close friend and fellow parishioner at St. John’s. 

“We all share the same values in life.”

Merkas’ selfless gift of service to others reflects her dedication to living a good Christian life, to her ecumenical work and her longstanding involvement helping those in need. 

Doreen Merkas’ Volunteer Words of Wisdom

“When I do volunteer work, I get to meet so many different people from all walks of life and I love getting the hugs I miss at home. Everyone I work with is so wonderful and caring and they always make me feel loved. We should all pass that feeling along to others.”

Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and occasional contributor to


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About the Author: Marlene Holkko Moore

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