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Unsung heroes: The Barn’s versatile duo

Service with a smile: Volunteers Robert Howes, left, and Antonio De Ponte, right, lend a helping hand at The Barn

Come rain or shine, Robert Howes and Antonio De Ponte can be found hard at work in the Island’s largest thrift store.

The two senior citizens have been volunteering at The Barn in Devonshire for more than half a decade.

“They are two of the many unsung heroes of the Barn,” manager Barbara Brown said. “It would absolutely not be possible to have The Barn if we did not have our volunteers.

“It takes an unbelievable number of man hours and their dedication — we are so grateful to all the volunteers.”

The duo is big on team work, get on well and works closely with the other volunteers.

“I fall in where I am needed,” Mr Howes, of Smith’s, said. “We are both versatile, which is good when it works. Everyone just jumps in — versatility is a big thing.”

Mr Howes and Mr De Ponte work out of the workshop in the Old Barn building, accepting, sorting, checking, fixing, pricing and selling donated goods to raise money for the Hospitals Auxiliary of Bermuda.

“If it’s a drop-off day I more or less control the area,” Mr Howes said.

This involves dealing with customers and goods, as well as deciding which department the donated items should go to. Despite dealing with items including household appliances and goods, clothes, sporting equipment, baby items and even musical instruments, Mr Howes specialises in toys.

Every donated item has to be checked to make sure it is in working order and puzzles, for example, need to be counted to make sure all the pieces are there.

“I enjoy it, it’s entertaining,” said the former Stevedoring employee. “It’s company, it’s socialising, but working as well. You feel that everything is moving in the right direction.”

Mr De Ponte, on the other hand, loves fixing things.

The 71-year-old has worked as a handyman for more than three decades, and his talents are well-placed when broken donations are in need of repair.

Electronics are entrusted to Mr De Ponte, who will do his very best to fix the items — even if it takes some time — so that they can be sold.

And if he cannot fix them in the workshop, he strips them for parts that can be used to fix something else. “He gets a lot of satisfaction from what he does,” Mr Howes said.

While both men find the work rewarding, Mr De Ponte especially enjoys helping people and interacting with them.

He said the work has taught him how to read people and added: “I’ve got a lot of friends now, too. When we are all together it feels nice.” Mr Howes started helping out at the thrift store eight years ago, after deciding to volunteer one day as he was dropping off items.

He began heading to the store two days a week, but enjoyed it so much that he now works four full days.

“They didn’t start off full, but I got involved,” he said.

Mr De Ponte has been helping out at the organisation for almost six years. He got involved after stopping by one rainy day and seeing that “everything was upside down”.

The Southampton resident spoke to another Portuguese volunteer, who suggested he stay and help out.

He did, and kept coming back the next week and the next.

Mr De Ponte now spends his Saturdays at The Barn and stops by whenever he has a moment to spare during the week, even if it is at 6.30am or during his lunch hour.

Because of the large amount of donations, The Barn only accepts items on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings from 9am to 11am.

On these days, the store is also open to shoppers from 9am to 2pm.

It is closed for the rest of the week so that the sixty-plus volunteers can process the items and ready them for sale.

The Barn raises funds for the Hospitals Auxiliary of Bermuda (HAB), which are used to buy special supporting equipment for King Edward VII Memorial Hospital and the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute.

The store celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, having started out as a sale for secondhand items on the Paget property of Sir Henry and Lady Tucker on South Road in 1964.

• For more information or to volunteer, e-mail nancy.oughton@bhb.bm or call 239-1525.

• Do you know an Unsung Hero who deserves recognition? Call Lisa on 278-0137 or e-mail lsimpson@royalgazette.com