British Columbia

Meet the Vancouver volunteer who 'breathes just a tiny bit of sunshine' into lives of women

The holiday period can be a challenging time for women waiting to get into rehab. Sandy Duck helps them get through a difficult period in their lives with a bit of cheer.

Sandy Duck has volunteered at Union Gospel Mission for 10 years, including over the holidays

Sandy Duck volunteers at at Union Gospel Missions women’s sanctuary in Vancouver. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

This story is part of a special series about people who make time to volunteer in their community over the winter holidays.

On a typical Friday, Sandy Duck heads down to Vancouver's Union Gospel Mission for 10 a.m., checks in and sees who's around that she can help. 

"No shift is typical because you're never really sure what's going to be going on," Duck said. 

Duck, 73, volunteers at UGM's sanctuary program, which provides a safe home for women who have gone through detox but are still waiting for placement at a rehabilitation facility or permanent housing. 

On one side of the sanctuary are single women, and on the other are women with babies and young children. All of them, Duck says, have stories to tell. 

"I love people. And so I love being with them," she said. "They have so much that they want to share."

Duck volunteers every Friday, including over the holidays. She says there's "no better gift" than donating one's time during the festive period. 

"You get such a wonderful feeling that you've done something that means something to somebody else," she said.

Imparting happiness

As part of her volunteer duties, Duck may accompany a woman to an appointment, take her for a walk or help care for her child. 

But a lot of what Duck does is just spend time with them. 

"I'm a very happy person by nature," Duck said. "And so if I can breathe just a little tiny bit of sunshine into somebody who's feeling down one day that's fantastic."

Sandy Duck has been volunteering at Union Gospel Mission's women's sanctuary for 10 years. Duck says she enjoys spending time with the women there and helping to brighten up their day. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It's been 10 years since Duck started volunteering with the sanctuary program. She started shortly after she moved to Vancouver from Ottawa, where she worked as the director of continuing education at the Canadian Bar Association. 

Her colleagues at UGM say Duck is "full of energy and life."  Joanne Anderson, UGM's volunteer manager, says she smiles just thinking about Duck. 

"Sandy is one of those unique individuals who really impacts and touches lives," Anderson said. "She's amazing and I wish we could clone her."

Keeping it festive

Duck says the holidays can be a particularly difficult time for the women at the sanctuary, who are away from their families. 

During the month of December, Duck and the other volunteers at the sanctuary work extra hard to make the space as festive as possible. 

They decorate a Christmas tree, and put up lights. Duck says she usually brings in some holiday baking or treats someone out to a festive coffee while they're out for a walk. 

Recently, Duck took a group of women out to VanDusen's Festival of Lights. She says it was a special occasion for everyone. 

"They were just beside themselves with joy," Duck said. "It's indescribable the joy that you see on their faces. It just makes whatever you do so worthwhile."

Bittersweet departures

There are hard parts to volunteering in the sanctuary, however. For Duck, it's saying goodbye to the women she's made connections with. 

Duck says the single women usually stay for a shorter amount of time. But some of the women with babies stay for longer — sometimes up to a year.

Saying goodbye, Duck says, is bittersweet because she's glad to see them move on to the next stage of their rehabilitation but sad to see them go. 

However, from time to time she does keep in touch with some of them or occasionally bump into them on the street many years later. 

"That connection is still there, and I think to me that's what I treasure the most," she said. 

Know a volunteer who goes the extra mile over the holidays? Send Maryse a note at



Maryse Zeidler


Maryse Zeidler is a reporter for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at


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