Dagenham great-grandmother recognised in New Year's Honours for services to community
PUBLISHED: 15:00 06 January 2020
A great-grandmother who spent more than 20 years volunteering has been recognised in the New Year's Honours list.
Evelyn Karstadt of Dorothy Gardens received the British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to the community of Barking and Dagenham.
The 91-year-old said: "I can't find words. It came as such a surprise. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I thought, 'Why me?'"
Evelyn started volunteering 23 years ago following the death of her husband of almost 50 years, retired bus conductor Maurice, who was a keen volunteer himself.
"When Maurice died I was lost. I didn't know what to do. My doctor suggested I take up where my husband left off, and I did. It stopped me feeling sorry for myself. I wasn't so lonely. It was great," Evelyn said.
The retired Barclays accounts department worker started by running the tea bar at Barking Hospital where her cheese on toast proved a hit with customers including Barking and Dagenham Council leader, Cllr Darren Rodwell.
When she turned 80, the former North East London Polytechnic student started a computer course at Barking Learning Centre, motivated by a wish to keep in touch with a daughter in the USA.
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And because Evelyn , an avid reader, loved being at the library so much, she asked staff if she could volunteer and they agreed.
She shelved books and made herself "generally useful", which included running a coffee morning, until ill health forced her to stop a few months ago.
In 2018, Evelyn was made a Freeman of the Borough for her work.
"I would love to go back to volunteering, but I can't rush around like I used to. Volunteering isn't for everyone, but for people who are lonely, if you're capable of getting out, then do it," she said.
On what husband Maurice would have thought of her BEM, Evelyn said: "He would have been overwhelmed."
Granddaughter, Dara Stringer, said: "All the family are extremely proud."
Cllr Sade Bright, the council's cabinet chief for employment, said: "We are thrilled Evelyn has been awarded this honour. Her commitment has helped transform hundreds of people's lives."
For more on volunteering opportunities call Barking and Dagenham Volunteer Bureau on 020 8532 7343 or visit lbbd.gov.uk/volunteering