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What goes around, comes around: Community Care of West Niagara and the ‘Burton Five’

For Beamsville’s John Burton and his siblings, giving back is a family affair.

Burton, 86, is the second youngest of 10 children and was only three years old when his father died, leaving his mother to raise him and his nine siblings by herself.

“At that time, the town of Beamsville was gracious to us,” Burton said.

From the milkman to the bread man to other members of the community, Burton said they would often drop their products off and never question when the Burtons would pay for their services.

He said even the farm they lived on wasn’t theirs, it was a government property that they rented through a Lincoln resident, who charged them minimal rent in exchange for picking fruit and taking off crops.

He recalled a time when his family wanted to build a home for themselves and the lumber company in town offered them the material they needed, but only asked they pay for it once they could afford to do so.

“We are indebted to the people of Beamsville, who gave us all the breaks that they could,” he said.

Burton would go on to make elevators for a living, a job he performed for 34 years before he was forced into retirement when the company closed. Around that same time, Burton’s older brothers, Douglas and Raymond were already retiring and looking for something to do with their time.

The two began to volunteer with Community Care of West Niagara (CCWN), which at the time was still in developmental stages. Shortly after, Horace, another Burton sibling, joined Doug and Raymond and by 1988, they’d brought the then jobless John along.

Some time later, sister Dorothy would join the pack as they began to volunteer full time at CCWN. Everything, from setting up shelving, organizing events, delivering food across the Niagara region and any other task that needed doing, the ‘Burton Five’ were willing and ready to do.

Almost every single day for over 25 years, the siblings would help out at CCWN, not working a single day in exchange for pay.

Burton joked that they were paid in coffee and pie, but never took a single dollar for their work.

As for what inspired them to give their retirement time to others, “I think it’s our upbringing. The fact that people gave to us when we needed it and we just returned the favour,” Burton said.

“They were not afraid to work, toil, sweat, bleed, and strategize, look to community partners, they weren’t afraid to approach people for support or assistance,” said Caroline Fuhrer, executive director of CCWN, as she recalled the history of Burtons as volunteers.

She said it was people like the Burton family who embodied the giving spirit of the people of Lincoln. A spirit that Fuhrer said keeps alive the memory of the late Doreen Hutchinson.

Hutchinson was one of the key founders of CCWN. She was described as a naturally compassionate and empathetic individual who was well connected to the community and worked for CCWN in the late 60s, well before it was a registered charity. At the time, Hutchinson and others conducted different acts of charity out of the Vineland United Church. Fuhrer said Hutchinson saw herself as an agent of change when seeing members of her community in need.

“I believe that is what we do every day, try to do good by Doreen and also do good by the group of people who embraced what she saw in the community,” Fuhrer said.

“Lincoln is a Mecca,” Fuhrer said, “We are a little engine that can,” she said.

Fuhrer said she herself wasn’t exactly sure what it was that inspired the likes of Hutchinson or the Burtons or the rest community to give, “but I think the human condition has some common values and it just happens to perpetuate here.”



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