Newark Neighbours has been helping the needy in Niagara-on-the-Lake for more than 30 years.
But the registered charity doesn’t stop at assistance for those who require help from the local food bank.
For the past four years, it has been making a donation to Red Roof Retreat from the Thrift Shop sales during the month of July. The money helps to offset costs for the programs and respite care Red Roof offers children and young adults with special needs.
When four Newark Neighbours volunteers, cheque in hand, arrived at The Ranch Thursday, one of three facilities operated by Red Roof, director Steffanie Bjorgan was astounded. It’s not the first time Newark volunteers have dropped off a cheque, but this one was for $10,000, an amount far greater than Bjorgan was expecting.
In addition to its food bank, Newark operates a thrift shop, which has evolved over the years to become a desirable place to shop. It offers gently-used clothing, sometimes even designer clothes, and attracts women from across the region and even from the U.S. who come to shop, expecting to find good bargains, says president Laura Gibson.
It also keeps a good stock of work clothes and household items for the migrant farm workers, who also frequent the thrift shop. They turn up in numbers in the spring, especially when it opens on Sundays, to purchase what they need for the season, and at this time of year they are stocking up on items to take home to their families.
“They’re shopping like mad to take stuff home. They are really excited to be able to take nice things home for their wives,” says volunteer Pat Hicks.
Sundays are the best days for retail sales, which is interesting, says Gibson.
NOTL residents generously donate items for the thrift shop, which helps farm workers purchase what they need for the season at affordable prices, and some of the money they spend goes back to the community, in part through the annual donation to Red Roof.
“Our migrant workers are part of the cycle of what Newark Neighbours does,” she says. “Their Sundays at the barn are really a social time for them as well, when they see and visit with their fellow workers. The first Sunday we open in the spring is like old home week.”
Farm workers do not get assistance from the food bank — that is only available to residents in NOTL who qualify by providing the required documentation, Gibson says.
Newark will also help residents who find themselves in an emergency situation, until they can provide the documents they need to show they meet standard guidelines.
The money made in the thrift shop generally pays bills and offsets costs of the operation, which receives no government funding, but in recent years, Newark has donated all sales from the month of July to Red Roof.
It began with a modest amount, but as the shop has been tidied and re-arranged, new carpet added to smarten it up, and word has travelled about the improvements, sales have increased, says Gibson.
This year’s $10,000 cheque was a reflection of that, up from last year’s donation of $7,000.
“We’re thrilled to be able to help Red Roof continue the excellent work they do in the community,” says Gibson.
Every year, with new members on the board, along with experienced volunteers, there are new ideas, and extra effort made to improve the appearance and service of the store. “Customers say how nice it’s looking these days. Every week we try to make it neater and improve it, and we’re getting great feedback.”
Volunteers work extra hard getting clothing donations out for sale during the month of July, and encourage customers to shop for Red Roof, she said.
“Newark takes pride in the fact that it’s a charity, and can be charitable to other organizations,” says Hicks. “It comes down to the volunteer segment working beautifully together.”
What they aren’t able to sell, they donate to other organizations, she says.
Bjorgan agrees that this is a great community of volunteers and organizations supporting each other.
“We’re all doing what we can to help each other, and it makes us all stronger,” she says, offering to help Newark volunteers with grant applications. The food bank is hoping for further renovations to the barn they use just off John Street, tucked away behind Riverbend Inn and Vineyard.
Although Newark has been serving the community for more than three decades, there are still residents who don’t know what it does or how it operates, says Gibson.
While the retail store is open to everyone to shop, the food bank serves about 30 people registered to receive help, who are able to pick up food every two weeks.
“There are still residents who are surprised to learn there are people in need in town,” she says.
Although in the early days they were mostly farm families who settled in NOTL, often with large families, now they are seniors, singles and couples, individuals and young families who are struggling to make ends meet. People don’t always recognize the need in town, she says, “because they’re not as visible in this community.”
To help them, Newark has teams of volunteers who come in on different days.
“It works really, really well. We all have fun. It’s become a social event for those who volunteer, and they get to know the regular clients,” says Gibson.
Newark also helps provide special occasion meals for Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.
Next up is the Oct. 13 holiday. Those who are qualified to receive a meal should register by Sept. 27 by calling 905-468-3519, or drop by the John Street barn.