At the age of 72, Susie Thomas knew she was in a high-risk category for contracting COVID-19.
The former registered nurse also knew she wanted to help during a pandemic. In particular, help people and their families in palliative care.
"I knew it was important," she said.
"We followed all the protocols so we could be safe and once a month I would go to a room at Braeside Hospital and pack brochures to help patients and families who had been diagnosed with cancer. We averaged about 100 and sent them to all the hospitals in the South Western Sydney Local Health District and community centres."
The Abbotsbury resident is part of the 35-strong SWSLHD Palliative Care COVID19 volunteer team. The team was recognised earlier his month with the volunteer team of the year award at the recent at the recent NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards which are run by The Centre for Volunteering to recognise the outstanding effort of volunteers throughout the state.
The team won the Western Sydney region award in September.
When the SWSLHD palliative care service was suspended on March 17, 2020, palliative care volunteers were recruited to form a COVID-19 team tasked with adapting to COVID safe ways of working to maintain the bereavement activity.
At a time when visiting restrictions were in place, limited people at funerals, border closures and no memorial services, the volunteers supported bereaved families right through the pandemic.
Some of the ways they supported families included: bereavement packs, providing telephone contact numbers to access support services, handwritten condolence cards and a follow-up letter. They also supported patients and their carers via the telephone with 42-hours worth of calls logged in the last financial year and volunteers came on board to play and sing through an online platform from their homes for inpatients in the dedicated palliative care ward.
The Always Loved Group, Bossley Trio and Ingleburn Library Knitting Group Ladies enabled the service to launch the Butterfly Box project in 2020 which provided a homely environment within a dying patients' hospital room. In the boxes are bed/pillow runners, a coverlet, battery operated candles, tray and silk flowers.
In the same year the Into the Dreaming Resource Boxes were established, which provide a culturally safe space within a deceased Aboriginal patient's hospital room in supporting family/community to have Aboriginal furnishings and meaningful items around them during Sorry Business.
SWSLHD chief executive Amanda Larkin said they were "incredibly proud" of all the work the palliative care volunteers have done to support patients and their families throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"For them to win the 2021 NSW Volunteer Team Award is wonderful recognition of the dedicated creative work they have undertaken to support patients during the final stage of their lives," she said.
Palliative care volunteer coordinator Arlene Roache said when the palliative care service stopped she looked for "creative and innovative" ways to continue part of the service. She said volunteers play an "important role" and compliment the staff.
The Centre for Volunteering chief executive Gemma Rygate said despite COVID-19, volunteers have continued to work right across the spectrum of the sector.
"Volunteers have helped keep their communities going in a crisis," she said.
The awards are supported by principal partners the NSW Department of Communities and Justice and ClubsNSW.
Families, Communities and Disability Services Minister Alister Henskens said volunteers are the "glue" that helps bind communities together.