The hand-drawn poster is colourful. In large letters it reads: Thank you to the Elk Valley Thrift Shop! It’s from the students and staff at Sparwood Secondary School, thanking the shop for its donation to the school’s breakfast program.

For the Elk Valley Thrift Shop in Sparwood isn’t your ordinary second-hand shop—as its bulletin board tacked with thank yous will attest. From the proceeds of sales “we cover our bills,” says founder and manager Katrin Taylor, “and then we give the rest back.”

In about four and a half years of existence, the shop has distributed around $310,000 to the community. In 2018 alone, it’s hoping to donate $100,000. Anyone in need—whether a group or an individual—is welcome to apply.

This is a huge success for a small community. And in 2017 the Elk Valley Thrift Shop Society laid an even stronger foundation by purchasing its own building with help from the Trust.

“We were rapidly outgrowing our old space and had already taken over three other shops in town,” says Taylor. “We had major storage issues and our work area was so small, a volunteer tripped on a bag and broke her wrist. It was getting dangerous.”

Now they’re in a freshly renovated three-storey building on the community’s Centennial Square, with plenty of space for sales, storage and volunteers. But it took several steps to get there.

“It was my role to help connect them through all of the tools and programs and services that the Trust could offer them,” says Kaylyn Gervais, Manager of Community Relationships East at the Trust. “We started by talking about their plans for the future, and how the Trust could help them achieve their vision through our existing supports.”

The society connected with the Trust’s Non-profit Advisors program, which supports non-profit organizations with free expertise and advice. It also connected with the Trust’s Basin Business Advisors program, which provides free business counselling and assessment services to Basin businesses, including social enterprises. Through these, the society came away equipped with items like a business plan and cash flow forecast.

Left to right: Volunteer Pam Huntley and Katrin Taylor, manager and founder of the Elk Valley Thrift Shop
Left to right: Volunteer Pam Huntley and Katrin Taylor, manager and founder of the Elk Valley Thrift Shop.

The society then worked with the Trust to come up with a tailor-made plan to purchase the building and renovate it to its requirements. This ended up being a combination of support. First, the Trust loaned the society $350,000 through its Investment Program, which enables the Trust to earn the income that funds its programs and services. Then the society received a $150,000 grant from the Trust.

“The whole process was a win-win for everyone,” says Taylor. “The people of the valley are just thrilled. We have many compliments. People are proud of us for what we’re managing to accomplish.”

Taylor also makes a point of thanking all the thrift shop volunteers and its one part-time paid cashier. “Without this team or the help of the Trust, all my grandiose ideas wouldn’t have worked at all.”

It wasn’t very long ago when Taylor, along with some family members and friends, decided the Elk Valley needed a thrift shop. Now people who want to donate items have a central place to go—while knowing that almost all unsold or unusable items will be recycled or repurposed. People who want to buy items only have to look for the green heart on the brick wall beside the ELK VALLEY THRIFT SHOP sign. And local people or organizations who need financial support have this generous asset they can rely on.

Taylor says, “We didn’t realize it would snowball like this, but it’s wonderful.”