The Sunday Magazine

After winning a jackpot, a former nurse dedicated her life to others

As a former nurse and charity worker, Rachel Lapierre has always wanted to give back. After a fateful scratch ticket guaranteed her $1,000 every week for life, Lapierre focused her efforts entirely on helping her community. David Gutnick follows a life of generosity in his documentary "What Makes Rachel Run?"
Rachel Lapierre with Nisten Wallo, Iskaa Salamoun, Moataz Salamoun, Jana Salamoun and Hanen Al Moussa. (David Gutnick/CBC)

Six years ago, Rachel Lapierre was working as a nurse in a local clinic.

One evening in 2013 — exhausted from a long day of dealing with emergencies — she stopped at a supermarket for groceries.

She bought a scratch ticket at her local grocery store, something she had rarely done.

It was a rough day and something in my head said buy a lottery ticket. And I said if I win ... I will do the Book Humanitaire full time.- Rachel Lapierre

For years, she had been devoting as much time as she could to helping others in need. But she could only spend so much time on the project, which she called the Book Humanitaire.

"It was a rough day and something in my head said, 'Buy a lottery ticket.' And I said, 'If I win ... I will do the Book Humanitaire full time,'" Lapierre told The Sunday Edition's documentary producer David Gutnick. 

She got home and scratched the ticket. She hit the jackpot, winning $1,000 a week for the rest of her life. 

A destiny in community

It meant financial security, but she wasn't looking to ditch the world's troubles. She wanted the chance to take on more of them. She quit her nursing job and dedicated all of her time to helping others. 

Lapierre knows what it's like to need a helping hand. She grew up in Verdun, a working-class neighbourhood in Montreal. Her parents ran a depanneur — a corner store. Money was tight. 

As a teenager, she found her way to a comfortable life. She worked as a fashion model and started her own agency. In 1982, she was crowned Miss Quebec. She married a rich man, had four children and lived in a mansion, but something didn't sit right.

Rachel Lapierre was somewhat of a local beauty in her youth, winning Miss Quebec in 1982. (Submitted by Rachel Lapierre)

Later, Lapierre's marriage fell apart. It was time for a real change in direction. She went back to school in her late 30s, became a nurse and a serious triathlete. Somehow, she had leftover energy. 

She started helping people throughout her community in whatever way she could. Word got out in the small communities that dot the Laurentians that if you have an emergency, Rachel Lapierre was the person to call.

Sometimes people call me at 10 o'clock at night, and they are crying and they are really in a bad situation, and I just jump in my car.... I know what it is to need something, and I know what it is to be sad. And to be alone.- Rachel Lapierre

Her cell phone never stopped ringing. 

"Sometimes people call me at 10 o'clock at night, and they are crying and they are really in a bad situation, and I just jump in my car .... I know what it is to need something, and I know what it is to be sad. And to be alone," she said. 

If a child's bike got stolen, she'd figure out how to get another one. She'd deliver a meal if someone couldn't make it to the food bank. During heat waves, she'd find fans for people living in stifling low-rent apartments.

She had a worn notebook where she kept track of everything: she called it her "Book Humanitaire." There were thousands of entries.

Rachel's organization began by her simply collecting a list of the good deeds she had done for others in the community. (David Gutnick/CBC)

From notebook to organization

Now, most days — and many nights — she is the whirling dervish at the centre of an army of volunteers who help people in trouble — just about any kind of trouble. In Quebec, she is now a bona fide good deeds superstar. Her organization is called Le Book Humanitaire, headquartered in her hometown of Saint-Jérôme, Que., one of the poorest municipalities in the Laurentian mountains, north of Montreal.

The organization does emergency help for anyone —  from driving someone, to getting them furniture, to getting a bike or a few days of food. Nothing is too small. 

Click 'listen' above to hear David Gutnick's documentary "What Makes Rachel Run?"


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