Cavell Reynolds still gets emotional when the topic of her niece and former co-worker, Tammy Parsons, comes up.
It's been about five months since Tammy, a 41-year-old from Victoria, died following a brief battle with cancer. As well as she knew Tammy through family and their employment at the local Home Hardware Building Centre in Carbonear, there was something about her niece that Reynolds and others weren't aware of — her unwavering commitment to supporting Carbonear's St. Vincent de Paul Food Bank.
"Her whole family was very proud knowing that she opened up her heart and gave when there was times she had nothing for herself," Reynolds told The Compass. "She was a single mom, she reared her daughter and there were times she struggled and her family helped her out. She knew what it was like to have people reach out to her, and she wanted to give back in that way."
Unbeknownst to her family and friends, Tammy had been donating items to the food bank in Carbonear for a number of years. It started with a food drive, where Home Hardware employees one year decided to put a pause on exchanging Christmas gifts and instead donated goods to the food bank.
Tammy brought her daughter Brianna along when the donations were presented to the food bank.
"Tammy and Brianna were in awe of knowing people out there were in need," Reynolds said. "The two of them went in that night and stocked shelves while the rest of us were filling up the food baskets, and Tammy talked about it for weeks."
Kerri Abbott, chairperson for the food bank, recalls a person came in that day with a single mother who had nothing and had just moved into new accommodations right before Christmas.
"We had closed the door, but when the mom was a bit upset, they could hear part of the conversation," Abbott said. "Home Hardware ended up adopting that family that Christmas, and they made sure they got Christmas and everything from a microwave to sheets – everything."
Having gained a better understanding of what the food bank does, Abbott started receiving monthly calls from Tammy.
"She would call me and say, 'Your order is in.' The first time it happened, I said, 'I don't know what you're talking about. I haven't ordered anything.' But she said, 'No, you need to come over, I've got something that you need to pick up.'"
Tammy gave Abbott a couple of cans of food, and this was the start of what became a monthly exchange.
"She said she didn't want anyone to know that she was doing it, but she was a single mom who was lucky enough to have family to help her out, and she couldn't give a lot, but she wanted to make sure she had something every month to give to us," Abbott said.
"She knew there were people out there who didn't have what she had."
According to Abbott, Tammy did confide once that in the event something were to happen to her, she'd want her daughter to know about the monthly donations, to help Brianna understand the importance of giving.
"I don't even know if she knew her diagnosis at the time," Abbott said. "A couple of months later, she passed away, and I tried to figure out a way to let her daughter know."
She decided to call Reynolds and tell her about Tammy's good deeds.
"Her family members, her co-workers — none of us knew it," said her aunt. "However, with that said, some mornings I would pick her up because she used to travel to work with me ... and when I'd pick her up, she'd have the extra bags in her hand. I'd say, 'Tammy, you must be some hungry today. You've got all them bags with you. What have you got in the bags?' 'Oh Aunt Cavell, I'm just starving.' That's all she'd say.'"
A discussion was subsequently raised about finding a way to honour Tammy's monthly commitment to the food bank. From there came the idea for Tammy's Buddy Bench. Her former employer donated the paint needed for the bench, and many co-workers, along with family and friends, attended a special dedication event held July 21 outside the food bank. There were also several bags of food dropped off that day — Abbott credits Tammy's daughter for encouraging people to do so.
"She's definitely continuing her mom's legacy," Abbott said.
An anonymous resident of Carbonear covered the cost to build the bench. Brianna chose the colour for it, settling on her mother's favourite: purple. She also painted it with help from her grandfather.
"It was very emotional," Reynolds said of the event.
According to Reynolds, staff at the Home Hardware in Carbonear intend to keep a regular monthly collection for the food bank going in her memory.
"We have a box placed in our lunchroom and at the middle of every month, since we've found out about this, our staff all bring in one item and we fill the box and call Kerri up and we tell Kerri the same as Tammy did — 'Your package is ready.'"
Her aunt can only speculate now as to why Tammy didn't tell anyone about the donations, but Reynolds does have an opinion.
"I think the reason Tammy didn't tell anybody is because I think she knew that if she told family ... that she was doing that, we would say — meaning no harm — 'Now Tammy, knock that off, 'cause there's times you can't afford to buy that for yourself.' I think that's why she didn't tell us. She didn't want us to know that she was doing it. And God love her, we're so proud of her."
The family deeply appreciates the food bank's gesture to remember Tammy.
"Our hearts are full and we are proud of the food bank for remembering Tammy in this way," Reynolds said.