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HELPERS: Near-death experience prompts Bradford man to give back to community

Willy King is a regular volunteer at the local food bank and encourages others thinking about volunteering in the community to do so
Willy King_2
Bradford resident Willy King volunteers regularly at the Helping Hand Food Bank, and enjoys giving back to his community after almost losing his life to a heart attack.

Willy King has been living in Bradford for the past four years. He is a father of two older daughters and lives alone as a retired material handler who drove a clamp truck for 30 years.

King was enjoying his retirement until one day five years ago,  out of nowhere, he suffered a severe heart attack. 

“I died for 12 minutes,” he describes. “I died in increments of four minutes. They (doctors) brought me back, but I died again. So, they brought me back, and then I was gone again.”

Although King has no memory of the incident, he was told that after the third time he was lost, he was put into a drug-induced coma for three days until he recovered.

“That’s the way they do it, plus a stint,” explains King about his heart surgery. “It’s all different degrees on how you survive. I was in a total haze afterwards.”

King took a year to recover fully from the heart attack and stayed with his sister during his recovery. He shares he had to quit drinking and smoking to keep his upgraded ‘ticker’ going.

The near-death experience had King looking at life differently. After his recovery, he relocated to Bradford for a fresh start.

“I wanted to give back to the community,” shares King. “After going through something like that, you realize how precious life is.”

King immediately contacted the Bradford Helping Hand Food Bank and was invited to help stock shelves. At first, he volunteered on Tuesdays once a month, but as the needs from the food bank grew over the course of the pandemic, King was asked to help more, and started coming in twice a week. 

“Right away, I decided this is how I wanted to give back to the community,” he said. "I figured the food bank would be the best one as there are lots of needy people who can’t afford week to week.”

King began stocking shelves and bringing in foods from the storage building next to the food bank. His volunteer shifts range around four hours and King says he is just happy to be able to help.

King has even helped man the Helping Hand Food Bank’s booth during Carrot Fests. He also attends the AGM (annual general meeting) for the food bank.

“I know myself, I enjoy everyone I’ve worked with,” he says. “Everyone is a volunteer at the food bank. There are no paid workers.”  

King shares an important part of his volunteer duties with the local food bank is checking the expiration dates – being able to know where to find dates on certain items, and discarding items that do not have any dates.

“We get those all the time,” he says about expiration dates. “We find all kinds of goodies but we’re definitely not going to keep expired foods under the health act, so we have to watch for that.”

Not only does the food bank check the expiration dates, but the packaging as well, looking for dents or any ‘pin holes’ of damage.

The food also gets rotated. The volunteers have a chart they follow that shows how long canned goods are good for.

“It’s a very important job, especially when it comes to the baby food,” he adds.

When King is not volunteering with the local food bank, he enjoys playing the piano and owns a 66-keys Korg piano that was willed to him by his older brother after he passed away.

King has been playing since the young age of four years old and plans to keep the piano in the family.

“I don’t actually read music,” he admits. “I play by ear – classical, jazz, rock and roll – and classics like ‘Moonlight Sonata’, ‘Hotel California’, and ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ by Pink Flloyd.”

King encourages others to get out and volunteer in the community because "you’ll enjoy it!”

“Unlike other food banks that have paid employees, we are completely volunteer-run,” he explains. “There’s a lot of clientele who rely on this service… especially with little ones. So, if it’s in you to volunteer, basically, just do it!”