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Our People Helping Others - The Zihuatanejo Equipment Project

Glenn Berst and St. Joseph's Care Group were recognized by the government of Zihuatanejo, Mexico, for coordinating the delivery of much-needed healthcare equipment and supplies to the city.
Glenn Berst of St. Joseph's Care Group

Date: 2015-01-09

A chance meeting on a beach in Mexico was all it took to start an international act of kindness and goodwill for long-time St. Joseph's Care Group (SJCG) employee Glenn Berst.

The Director of Building Services was on vacation with his family when he and his wife Cheryl struck up a casual conversation with a stranger. The Bersts just happened to mention that their daughter, a medical student, wanted to visit the local hospital.

As luck would have it, the woman they were talking to knew someone who could make it happen, thus setting off a two-year chain of events that culminated in June 2014 with the delivery of a shipping container of much-needed healthcare equipment and supplies to Zihuatanejo, Mexico.

During the hospital tour, Berst quickly saw that much of the equipment that SJCG retires and disposes of through MEMO was newer and in much better condition than what was in use in Mexico.

MEMO stands for Medical Equipment Modernization Opportunity, a local organization that collects and ships retired medical equipment and supplies to Cuba and El Salvador.

"Would you be interested in obtaining any of our used equipment?" he asked, and, not surprisingly, the answer was yes!

First, the Bersts had to make a formal request for the city's support of the project. That involved a meeting with the First Lady of Zihuatanejo - the wife of the city and district chief official - who arrived with personal bodyguards and public relations staff. Somewhat intimidated, the Bersts quickly realized that this good deed would be high profile in the community. As a result, high-level political connections would prove invaluable.

The work then began in earnest. The hospital provided photos, painting a picture of its needs. Then a list of items was developed, and, with the assistance of Dr. Jerome Harvey, a retired physician and founder of MEMO, the equipment was gathered from the MEMO warehouse in Thunder Bay and through Dr. Harvey's contacts across Canada.

Organization was essential, and building the list of exactly what was going to be shipped for Mexican Customs' officials was important, as Customs had to accept, approve, endorse and allow the shipment.

A 40-foot container was needed to ship the goods to Zihuatanejo, at a cost of $10,000. This fundraising challenge was undertaken by a network of volunteers in the United States and Mexico, another indication of the international aspect of the project.

Finally, the approvals were received and shipping plans finalized.

"It was the greatest feeling for us to have that empty transport arrive and to know that, okay, this is actually going to happen," Cheryl Berst recalls. "And the next greatest feeling was seeing the pictures taken when the container arrived and was being unloaded in Zihuatanejo. It's humbling to know we were able to do something to help them."

To show its appreciation, the City of Zihuatanejo sent SJCG a certificate of appreciation, signed by the President/Mayor of the Municipality of Zihuatanejo de Azueta.

SJCG President & CEO Tracy Buckler commends the work of Glenn Berst and his team of volunteers.

"Our mission at St. Joseph's Care Group is to identify and respond to the unmet needs of the people of Northwestern Ontario," she says. "The Bersts simply extended this mission beyond the borders to help those in need in Mexico."

As for Glenn Berst's take on things? In his typically modest and understated fashion, he says he's just glad "it all worked out."

The Bersts want to thank the following people and organizations:

St. Joseph's Care Group

As the official sponsoring organization, SJCG donated much of the equipment and provided a holding location for the equipment as it was being gathered.

Maryellen Jackson - an American who winters in Zihuatanejo, and is active in the community

She provided the Spanish language skills that were needed, made the necessary political contacts, worked with Mexican authorities and customs people, and her group of volunteers were responsible for raising all the money required for shipping.

Dr. Jerome Harvey - retired Thunder Bay physician, and founder of MEMO

Dr. Harvey was key in tracking down and sourcing the requested equipment and supplies - his experience with MEMO was invaluable.

Dave Marsh - retired Thunder Bay firefighter, and long-time volunteer with MEMO

Super Dave, as he's fondly called, was instrumental in packing the container - a monumental task and one he performed with such skill.

Many more friends, family and other volunteers were also involved and the Bersts, as well as the people of Zihuatanejo, are very grateful to them all.


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