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While many people across Prince Edward Island were having Christmas dinner with their families, cashiers at the Bloomfield Shell were hard at work.
The gas station isn’t normally open Dec. 25; they didn’t have to be there, but they wanted to be.
In fact, it was their idea to open.
The workers were raising money for a scholarship in memory of their former coworker Ethan Reilly, a West Prince teen who died in a boating accident in September.
Eryn Hustler, a cashier at the Shell, came up with the idea.
“We have a little plaque made up in memory of Ethan at the store,” said Hustler. “We were just talking about honouring him.”
Reilly was employed at Bloomfield Shell for around a year. He worked every Saturday and Sunday during school, even while juggling a second job.
If he wasn’t busy, Hustler said, he would cover a shift when they needed him.
“Everyone loved coming in and seeing him behind the cash,” Hustler said. “He was just such a kind young man. Always had a smile on his face, always brightened people’s day.”
When he spoke with customers, he was genuine. When he asked questions about their day, it wasn’t just to be polite – he honestly wanted to know.
“That’s what everyone remembered about him.”
Hustler’s sister, Abby, knew Reilly well outside of work.
“He had a big personality,” she said. “He was someone who really appreciated everything, what he worked for, what he had … He was always fun to be around, and all the boys loved hanging around with him.”
Originally, only Hustler, Abby and their brother, Nylan, were going to work Christmas. The rest of the staff, including Marshall Gallant and Nick Handrahan, were welcome to work if they could but weren’t obligated to stay the entire time.
Gallant and Handrahan, though, insisted on staying from open until close – 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. – with the rest of them. Gallant gave up his family gathering to be there.
In addition to a donation bin, 10 per cent of merchandise sales and three cents for every litre of gas went toward the scholarship fund. Hustler also set up e-transfer for people who couldn’t make it to the store.
“The number of messages and people reaching out was unbelievable,” said Hustler. “People from the other end of the Island were messaging me … I definitely did not expect that.”
Hustler knew the store was going to be busier than normal, so they had Nylan and Gallant at the gas pumps, accepting cash payments to decrease the line inside. Still, there was never a quiet moment in the day.
“I don’t think there was a minute all day that there was no one,” said Hustler. “There was constantly vehicles at the gas pumps. At one point near the end of our shifts, there was vehicles lined out almost to the road.”
People called the gas station all afternoon, Hustler said, wondering how long they would be open and how busy it was.
In total, the Shell raised over $5,000 – more than expected.
“We thought it was going to be a pretty good day, but we did not anticipate that many customers,” Hustler said. “It was so busy all day.”
Due to raising more money than anticipated, the Shell cashiers decided to create a second scholarship in memory of Alex Hutchinson, who died in the accident with Reilly.
Of the money earned, $4,000 will go toward Reilly’s scholarship, and the other $1,000 will go toward Hutchinson’s.
“The two of them mean so much to the community,” said Hustler. “Although Alex didn’t work with us at the gas station, my boss knows that he holds a special place in our hearts forever. That’s what Ethan would want, for his buddy Alex to be honoured alongside him.”
Although she didn’t work alongside Hutchinson, Hustler said she was close with him, as well. They frequently talked, particularly about fishing. Hustler’s other sister, Ally, also played hockey with him.
“Alex was a big part of our family. He meant a lot to us,” said Hustler.
Hustler is going to create a committee to decide criteria for the scholarship and determine the recipients of the award. She wants the Christmas day fundraiser to be an annual event. Funds raised past the $5,000 will be saved for next year.
“It was really humbling to be able to do something like this,” said Hustler. “It made our holiday so much more special.”
Kristin Gardiner is the Journal Pioneer's rural reporter.
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