ST. GEORGE – Baby Amelia Tidd and Darrell Tidd were two of the 20 people that lined-up on Main St., St. George, before the start of Hillary’s Hope for Hunger food drive. The event officially began at 11 a.m., but a crowd was waiting to have their donations weighed well before that, despite the dreary weather. A number of them, like baby Amelia, were decked-out in purple and yellow T-shirts, or sporting sunflowers; the colours and symbols of the event.
Many participants had come in honour of Hillary Hooper, who lost her life on Dec. 9, 2020, several days after trying to hang herself while a psychiatric in-patient at Saint John’s Regional Hospital’s 4D north unit. The sunflower, a flower loved by Hooper, became a positive representation of her bright personality.
Hillary’s Hope for Hunger’s event information says, “Hillary was such a light for everyone who knew her and her presence remains forever with the ones who love her. She had a heart as big as her personality and would never turn a blind eye to someone struggling, despite the struggles she faced herself.”
“We want to honour this memory of her in a way we know she would appreciate and put our focus on [hunger] one of the many contributing factors that impact mental health,” says the event poster. Another symbol highlighted at the event was the semi-colon, which is used as an affirmation of solidarity and strength from suffering related to mental health issues, including suicide and addiction.
The event was begun last year by Hooper’s mother, Lake Utopia resident Patty Borthwick.
Borthwick chose the Saturday donation location beside the Community Pantry on Main St. because her daughter had supported the project. Hooper not only took food, “She would knit hats and scarves and drop them off,” Borthwick says. On the topic of food security, Borthwick says, “The food bank only allots so much each month.
“If you’re short on food, you go to the food pantry.” Borthwick drops food off year-round and challenges those she knows to do the same. She is aware spring can be a difficult time for food banks, and the one in St. George appreciates the timely help.
“Making something good out of something bad,” was Borthwick’s main motivation in supporting a cause near to her daughter’s heart. She acknowledges it has been a frustrating 17 months since the decision was made to turn off the life support after Hooper injured herself on Dec. 2 while in a secure psychiatric hospital ward. Borthwick is extremely dissatisfied with the weak answers, or lack of answers altogether to her questions, “How can this have happened? How could someone not have gone by and seen something?”
In getting answers Borthwick states, “they (Horizon Health) block me every step of the way.” She has been denied copies of reports (although some have been read to her). Borthwick feels she cannot get clear answers, even though she has met with Horizon Health Network officials and Premier Blaine Higgs.
Some changes may be forthcoming as Borthwick wrote in an email that she was “read [a report] by John Dornan, then Acting CEO [Chief Executive Officer of Horizon Health Network], who is now CEO. As well, I was provided it in an email from Horizon Health.”
The report recommends the tops of load bearing doors in 4D be altered, which would make it difficult for someone to hang themselves in that way. Borthwick is also working hard to have legislation enacted, “So that when someone dies in as an inpatient in a psychiatric unit that it triggers a coroner’s inquest.” She likens what she hopes will become law as part of the Provincial Coroner’s Act to legislation that creates an inquest when a prison inmate dies.
“If an inmate dies by any means,” Borthwick says, “there is an automatic inquest. It’s not the same for patients who die by suicide in the care of a hospital.” Borthwick hopes it will be called Hillary’s Law.
After the food drive event, $11,000 in cash donations and 2,500 pounds of food had been immediately donated, which Borthwick says was down from last year’s total of more than 7,000 pounds. “I expected that,” Borthwick says, “because last year was right after Hillary passed away.” But food and monetary donations continue to come in. One special donation was from the Village of Black’s Harbour, which donated 50 pounds of food in honour of the village’s 50th anniversary. Borthwick can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, if anyone is still wishes to donate.
Although Borthwick swore, “no tears, this year,” it was a promise she was not able to keep when a bench, planter, and plaque in Hooper’s memory, was donated. “I cried like a big baby,” Borthwick says. She writes in an email the “bench was donated by the St. George Food Bank to honour the annual food drive efforts for Hillary’s Hope for Hunger and it was made by Brent Dukai, a volunteer at the food bank.”