Summerside, P.E.I. - It’s been one year since Belinda Woods set up a store that does things a little differently in Summerside.
No money changes hands at the free store, located at the rear entrance of 109 Water Street. The volunteer-run store, which relies completely on donations, helps give those in need a dignified and free shopping experience, as well as a chance to get back on their feet.
It’s a story Woods, the founder and operator, knows all too well.
“I’ve been homeless, and I’ve been very, very broke. I’ve struggled as a single mother. There are lot of challenges that I faced, and something like this would have been so good at the time. And now that I have this opportunity, it feels like it was all meant to be.”
The store, comprised of compassion and collaboration after seeing a real need in the Prince County area, has grown since it first opened the doors in December 2016.
“I have a story that always sticks with me,” shared Woods. “We don’t usually make deliveries, but this one time a friend of mine convinced us to deliver to this single mom. It was a table and chairs and a few little pieces of furniture. When the items were delivered, the children came running.
“They were so excited that they were going to have a chair to sit on, and that’s just something most of us take for granted. We know that there’s a real need in the community for the donated furniture, especially when we find out how many people don’t have beds.”
Staged as a replica department store, customers can go about their business and then leave with their chosen items.
“We do everything to make people feel comfortable and make the space look like a department store because we want them to have a positive experience, and be able to take whatever they need,” explained Woods.
“We’re very fortunate it’s all good quality stuff,” she continued. “The only things we don’t take are large appliances like fridges and stoves and old televisions, because nobody wants them. The biggest needs are children’s wear, baby items, and beds.”
Heather Zaharychuk, a volunteer, makes clothing from items that can’t be repaired at the store.
“Something old becomes new again,” she said, with a smile. “I’m retired and I like helping people, and came down to the store last year to volunteer.”
Zaharychuk understands how it’s like to go without.
“When I got sick and couldn’t go back to work, I had to accept welfare. And because I lived with my sister we got $300 a month. There wasn’t much to live on, so we got food from the soup kitchen. But now that I’ve retired I still don’t seem to have money, so it’s wonderful to have this free store.
“We don’t judge people, and do not question if they are taking too much. They just take what they need and pass items on to someone who needs it. And I find on the whole people are being very fair and not taking advantage of the system."
She concluded, “There’s been an overwhelming spirit of Christmas that’s come out of this store, and people are just happy. People who were ready to give up on the Christmas spirit are benefitting from other people’s kindness in the community.”
Barb Dyment, a manager at the free store, thanked the students from Three Oaks Senior High School in Summerside for volunteering at the store, and encouraged more to get involved.
“They are a great group of kids that leave judgement outside the door,” she said.
Students can contact Delaney Dyment at Three Oaks, if they are interested in volunteering.
Woods acknowledged that there is a big need in Summerside, and said she is grateful for the store.
Drop offs and sorting is every Tuesday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.
No cash donations.
The Free Store opens the second and fourth Saturday of each month, from 1 to 4 p.m., as well as the third Tuesday of the month from 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Customers with a genuine need for an item can be placed on a waiting list.
The store is in need of shelving and sturdy clothing racks for storage.
No items at the store are to be re-sold.
For more information visit, https://www.facebook.com/summersidefreestore/