Nanaimo Hospital Auxiliary is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year and its thrift store is only one of the services it offers. Pictured here, volunteer Carole Dagenais and auxiliary president Phil Robling. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo Hospital Auxiliary has been fundraising for 120 years

Hospital auxiliary president says group pioneered Wi-Fi at hospitals on Island

What began as a call for women volunteers 120 years ago has flourished into a non-profit that raises money and offers other supports to Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

A Nanaimo Free Press article in 1900 invited women in Nanaimo to a meeting with the intention of organizing a ladies’ auxiliary to assist the hospital, similar to one in Victoria. The Nanaimo Hospital Auxiliary has evolved over the years, including the addition of male volunteers in 1971, but fundraising has been a constant, said Phil Robling, Nanaimo auxiliary president.

“The history of the auxiliary is fundraising really through, I’ll call it, basic activities like bake sales, dances, that type of thing,” said Robling. “About 20, 30 years ago, we opened the first gift shop in the hospital, so then we started to sell wares and sundries and items in the gift shop for patients and their families and then 15, 16 years ago we opened the first thrift store.”

RELATED: Nanaimo Hospital Auxiliary opens new thrift store

And while Robling said the thrift shop became a “game-changer” and a major fundraising source, there are other aspects related to the auxiliary.

“I want to stress very strongly, the thrift store, while it’s the most visible part of the auxiliary today, we still run the gift shop in the hospital, which is huge because it’s an essential service … and we have a very active craft group,” said Robling.

In terms of contributions to the hospital he is most proud of, Robling pointed to wireless internet at the hospital, something he said Nanaimo auxiliary pioneered on the Island.

“We went to the hospital and said, ‘Look can we get Wi-Fi?’ They said, ‘Well it’s not something the hospital can do through Island Health, but maybe you guys could fund it.’ So I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Robling said. “We were the first auxiliary to fund Wi-Fi at a hospital on the Island and now all the major hospitals have got Wi-Fi; they followed our model.”

When asked about upcoming fundraising ventures, Robling said last year, the auxiliary agreed to fund a “gathering space” in the hospital, which he anticipates will be done later this year.

“It’s something that families and patients can use,” said Robling. “If they [need] a quite space to contemplate. It’s taken the role of … chapel. Now we need to be non-denominational to encompass every religion, so that’s what we’re helping fund. That’s in the process right now.”

Robling said the auxiliary could always use more volunteers. To find out more, or to apply as a volunteer, go to

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Henny Van Harten, a volunteer, and the rest of Nanaimo Hospital Auxiliary are celebrating the group’s 120th anniversary. (KARL YU/News Bulletin)

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