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Jan28TueA Salvation Army thrift store in Montreal gives without reservation. January 28, 2014 by Ken Ramstead
The staff of The Salvation Army's thrift store situated on Notre Dame Street right below Montreal's downtown had closed for the day when they heard a knock at the door.
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“The man was here from California looking for work and he'd had his suitcase stolen, including his wallet,” says staff member James Espirito. While he had contacted his family back home for help, at the moment he had nothing to his name and none of the other stores in the area had bothered to open their doors to him.
“He was literally begging us for a shirt, just one shirt he could wear,” Espirito continues.
The staff immediately unlocked their doors, brought him in and gave him the run of the place.
“He couldn't believe his good fortune,” says Espirito. “He had no money to pay us, but the look on his face was payment enough.”
“There's a reason why The Salvation Army exists and why it's been around so long. The one word that comes to mind is hope,” says Patrick Carriere, store manager. “As a person of faith, I know how important that is. When people walk through our doors, they have hope.”
People Helping People
Carriere's Salvation Army thrift store occupies a unique niche in the Montreal retail landscape.
“With 40 employees and at 40,000 square feet, the Montreal Notre Dame thrift store is the largest Salvation Army thrift store in Canada and an exceptional example of interaction with the community,” says John Kershaw, managing director of The Salvation Army's National Recycling Operations. “Like the rest of our 300 stores in Canada, the Montreal Notre Dame branch is a vibrant beacon in the community, and I know Patrick and the rest of the staff are grateful to be part of this grass-roots ministry to our neighbours.”
“When people think of The Salvation Army here in Montreal, our thrift store immediately comes to mind,” agrees Carriere. “The community is a hundred percent behind us because we are, in a very real sense, a part of our community. I think our varied clientele reflects that.”
Walk by the thrift store on any given lunch hour and you'll see an eclectic clientele, sandwiched as the store is between trendy boutiques and antique shops at one end and one of the poorer parts of town on the other.
Luxury cars are parked outside as their owners pop in for just the right business suit for an upcoming board meeting. Single moms carrying kids rub shoulders with legal secretaries, while hostel clients, vouchers in hand, look for the bare necessities.
But even the vouchers go by the board in a case of extreme need.
“We've had many homeless people or people released from detention who come in needing clothes immediately,” relates Carolyn Coleman, one of the thrift store clerks. “Normally, we need some sort of voucher from the Army shelter but instead we often say, 'It's free of charge. Just find what you can use.' ”
We are helping people in need but we're also helping the community. It's a good feeling.
“Our sales generate funds for Salvation Army facilities in the city that do so much for so many,” says Carriere with pride, noting that the funds generated by his store provide assistance to the Booth Centre close by, L'Abri D'espoir, the Army's women's shelter down the street, the Red Shield Appeal and the Christmas kettle drive.
“Patrick and his employees are front-line workers no less than our shelter and hostel staff,” believes Kershaw, “and the funds they provide are pivotal to our operations in Montreal.
“They get a great deal of joy from their guests and their customers get a great deal on everything they purchase.”
Errand of Mercy
Carriere will always remember one special moment.
Someone tapped the then-manager of the Salvation Army thrift store in Laval, Que., on the shoulder. When he turned, there was a mother with her son in tow.
“I need help,” she said simply, through her tears.
Before she could say anything else, Carriere looked at her and said, ”Let's go to my office.”
Inside, the woman told Carriere her story. She and her son had suffered for years at the hands of an abusive husband, who beat them regularly.
“We were finally able to escape but all we have are the clothes on our backs,” she told Carriere. “A friend found us a place to stay, but I have no furniture, no clothes, no food. I have nothing.”
“She was trembling as she told me her story, that's how scared she was,” continues Carriere.
“We're here to help you,” he told her. “Whatever we can do, we will do. Anything that we have is yours, without limits.”
He and his staff rolled into action. Within an hour, they had furnished her entire apartment. What the Salvation Army store didn't have—fridge, stove, washer and dryer—they took care of through outside suppliers. And they found a company that was able to deliver the furniture.
Carriere then gave the woman a shopping cart and told her to go on a shopping spree and to take anything she thought would make her and her son happy—books, toys, whatever.
“I don't know how to thank you,” the woman kept repeating to Carriere and his staff.
“But we're not done yet,” he told her. “You need to eat and I intend to make sure that you eat well.”
Carriere then withdrew money from his own bank account and took her to the nearest grocery store, where they went shopping together.
He never thought he'd see the woman again but she returned to the store a month later, happy and safe with her child in their new apartment. “I can't believe that people like you and your staff still exist,” she said, giving him a heartfelt hug.
“At that moment,” Carriere smiles, “I knew why I belong to The Salvation Army.”