The Queen Pin Award
The Queen Pin is an award given to a woman who has demonstrated extraordinary effort to improve her community.
Cherryl Oake: First Queen Pin Award Recipient
Cherryl Oake’s path to volunteer extraordinaire started with a simple desire to solve a problem for one family. When a girl she knew visited a new Syrian friend’s home and remarked that the family had almost nothing – only the barest kitchen necessities and very little furniture – Cherryl sprang into action.
With her first callout for help on Facebook, she was able to furnish that home, but soon discovered three more families in need. Within ten days, they too had beds, couches, tables, chairs, and kitchen supplies. The rubber really hit the road when Cherryl learned of scores of government-sponsored Syrian refugee families in need in Spryfield. “I thought oh my god, we have to do something,” she says. “I put out another call and said this is serious.” After collecting donations of goods and money, Cherryl and a couple of other volunteers rented a truck and through Easter Weekend of last year delivered furniture to 19 families in two buildings.
The Facebook group Cherryl set up now had two or three hundred members, and she became known across greater Halifax as the point person to help Syrian families get on their feet. Hundreds of volunteers and donors have stepped up to help, including Tara MacDonald Fitness, which still makes a monthly donation, and Manor House Furniture, which donates furniture, delivery trucks, warehouse space, and movers’ time. The CBC television show 22 Minutes also made a substantial donation.
Before this, Cherryl says, she had never really volunteered before. “I work at Canada Post. I have a 14- and a 16-year-old. I work full-time and have a house to run. I didn’t go looking for this, and I knew about the refugees, but like everyone I have a busy life and I’m in my little bubble. But I can’t ignore it.”
Cherryl is quick to explain why government-sponsored refugees, who don’t have the benefit of a sponsorship group to get them started, need help. “People ask, ‘They were given money, weren’t they?’ But I tell them if you were in a refugee camp for all that time… Do you feed your family or buy dishes? They bought beds and the very, very basic necessities. Many have six or eight kids. They get a lump sum, but might not get any more money for three months. We’ve seen some pretty frightened and emotional people.”
To date, Cherryl has helped more than 50 Syrian families build comfortable Canadian homes. “I’ve made a lot of friends, and seen the pictures and heard the stories, but you can’t even imagine what they’ve been through,” she says. “When I first started working with them, I learned you have to have tea or meal. I’ve learned to say, ‘Thank you, I’m full’ in Arabic,” she smiles. “They’re just amazing people, so resilient, and I just have so much respect for them.”
On April 20th, QueenPins will proudly present Cherryl Oake with the first ever Queen Pin Award. “You don’t do these things for awards, for sure,” says Cherryl. “And I didn’t do it by myself for sure. But it’s wonderful! It’s great to be acknowledged. The families are happy.”