RIP Keith Meerman - what an example you were

 Another garbage day and the green bins and recyclables were brought out today. We had accumulated three bags of cans and bottles because it’s over a month since Keith Meerman came to collect our refundables for charity.

For years now Keith would pull in mid-morning every two weeks, snag a clanky bag of cans and wine bottles, and load them into the back of his full-size green car. Then he’d head around the corner for more.

Keith and his wife Alice got their motivation to collect refundables in 2001 when they first visited Cuba and sought out a church to attend during their stay. The Primera Iglesia Bautista in Matanzas didn’t look ecclesiastical on the outside, but once inside they made friends in the congregation. When asked why, Alice told me, “first of all they’re our brothers and sisters.”

Returning to Cuba annually, the Meermans brought the financial and medical aid they gathered throughout the year because they could see the need, particularly in the interior of the island. They once visited a prison and after that their contributions “just snowballed,” said Keith.

Alice, who worked in a New Minas school library, collected used clothing from Evangeline Middle School. Each year they brought seeds from Home Hardware, soap, batteries and much needed medicines. Once year I remember they even brought bicycles.

Keith also brought along contributions from his home congregation at Wolfville Baptist Church. In 2004 he noted Canadians spent close to $600 each on Christmas. When he asked his church for help for Cuba, it started rolling in. Interestingly, I’ve read that in 2017 the average amount spent on Christmas had jumped to $1,500.

Email kept Keith aware of the needs in Matanzas. Over
the years the Wolfville couple took thousands of dollars worth
of aid and New Testament bibles to the area. One winter they
lined up 12 couples to pack suitcases with contributions. In
return, when visiting Varadero, they were called 'Abuelita y
Abono,' the Cuban equivalent of ‘granny’ and ‘grandpa’.

I remember Keith telling a story to the children in church near Remembrance Day and there were tears in his voice. His wartime childhood was seared on his memory as his parents hid Jews threatened with extermination. Keith almost starved as a youngster in Holland. He spoke of having to eat tulip bulbs and dodging Nazi bullets when they strafed a merry-go-round.

Maybe that's why, since moving to the Annapolis Valley at age 19 back in 1956, he was so eager to give back. Over the years he worked hard: farming, selling Fuller brushes, feed, and chocolates door-to-door, operating a store called Meerman’s Beehive (now Muddy’s), and before retiring doing maintenance work on rental buildings.

He was also busy being a good Christian and a good Samaritan, whether as a member of the Wolfville Lions Club, saving lives with the town’s fire department, or as a pillar of the Baptist church.

Keith was recognized in 2008 as Wolfville's Volunteer of the Year. In 2012 he also received a Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal from MP Scott Brison.

Keith inspired me and many neighbours to carry out extra recycling activity. We walk the dogs and pick up every thrown-away can and bottle, then left them at our doorstep every two weeks. The recycling cash generally went toward medicine. We jokingly called our refundables ‘pesos’.

Recently our bags of pesos languished uncollected on a routine pickup day. That was our signal that “Abono” wasn’t coming anymore. Keith was 82 when he passed away earlier this month.

Wolfville Fire Chief Todd Crowell said the department was happy to honour Keith at his funeral when the family requested flags flying from a ladder truck. He had been a 35-year veteran who retired from fire fighting in 2005.

Alice, his wife of 60 years, won’t be keeping him company on bottle pick-ups anymore. She was a great support and the two of them encouraged a number of others to aid Cuban churches. Kentville Pastor John Andrew says, “we are ever thankful for their example and initial push to try something new. Because of Keith and Alice, Cuba is now in our hearts too.”

The guys at the Enviro Depot told me Keith would bring between $7 and $25 worth of bottles every time he visited the Greenwich site. Today if you haul a bag of recycling in, you can donate the proceeds to: L’Arche Homefires, Camp Triumph, the Flower Cart, the SPCA, Safe Haven Animal Rescue and various local sports teams.

We’ll keep picking up pesos and donating them, and following Keith’s example as we do.


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