Carole Allen first met Jean McNair at St. Jean de Brebeuf Catholic Elementary School in Bradford West Gwillimbury more than a decade ago.
Allen was a teacher and then principal at the school. McNair would drop by at the end of the school year to collect unclaimed lost and found items, which she and husband Tim packaged and shipped to an orphanage in the Philippines.
On Wednesday, Allen – now president of the Retired Teachers of Ontario (RTO/ERO) District 17 – was back in Bradford, to meet up with the McNairs, and present a $300 RTO grant for the orphanage and its community outreach programs.
There are approximately 2,000 retired educators from the public, Catholic and Francophone boards in Simcoe County who belong to District 17 RTO/ERO.
“Each year we set aside an amount of money for grants,” said Allen. Local non-profit organizations and fundraising groups submit applications, hoping to receive funding.
For about 16 years, McNair has been part of a group collecting donations and raising funds for St. Mother Teresa Refuge in the Philippines. The McNairs work with Father Ben Ebcas, Jr., of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Toronto, to assist an orphanage in Tacloban City.
Since 2015, the fundraising has extended to the Home of God’s Mercy and Compassion in Leyte, Philippines. The home includes an orphanage housing 15 children between the ages of one and eight, and also provides schooling and hosts a monthly community meal that feeds another 150 children from the surrounding villages and streets.
“Her group was one of the groups chosen this year to receive a grant,” said Allen. The $300 donation will be used to buy goats and chickens for the orphanage, “helping them to become self-sufficient.”
McNair has done more than pick through lost and found discards. She has combed yard sales for children’s clothing and educational toys, like LEGO. She has encouraged community donations, and collected children’s books from a church in Tottenham, donations of spaghetti from another church, and pencils for school children, from local artist and teacher Corinne Donnelly.
Pencils are at a premium in the Philippines; kids at the orphanage school usually get only two to last the whole school year.
McNair also inspired a group at the Danube Seniors Leisure Centre to make cloth diapers for poor mothers.
“They were taking used diapers out of the dump, cleaning them and reusing them,” said McNair. The new diapers, boxed and shipped to the Philippines, were a welcome addition to the other clothing and food donations sent overseas.
This year, the goal is to encourage self-sufficiency. The nuns are not only teaching local women how to sew, they are encouraging poor families to grow fruits and vegetables on a plot of land, both for their own families and for the orphanage.
The goats and chickens purchased will hopefully provide an ongoing source of income, McNair said.
It wasn’t the first donation from RTO/ERO to McNairs’ group. Following the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, RTO contributed $4,000 to repair the orphanage roof.
Allen was especially impressed with the educational and sustainability aspects of the programs that will be supported by the RTO gift, something that is close to the heart of its members.
Said the retired educator: “That’s the best part of this vocation – it’s lifelong.”