Kim Zakaruk, originally from Moosomin, has been rewarded for her selflessness during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Stone’s Throw Coffee Collective in Regina is one of 20 recipients of $5,000 awarded by the Conexus Kindness Capital Fund. This program was set up by Conexus Credit Union to give back to people and businesses in Saskatchewan that have been helping in any way they can during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A return on kindness
During the early days of the Covid-19 lock down, the federal government announced the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). It was one of many programs designed to help Canadian businesses during the early stages of the pandemic.
“It’s a guaranteed federal loan program that a business can apply for, but you do it through your financial institution. If you own a business and you do your banking at Conexus, then you apply for the CEBA through Conexus and you can receive a $40,000 loan which is fully guaranteed by the federal government. All banks and credit unions across the country supported the delivery of CEBA loans by doing all of the paper work and receiving the funds from the federal government and then distributing them to the businesses that applied,” says Mary Weimer, Chief Member Experience Officer at Conexus.
The program was extremely popular, with Conexus approving about 1400 CEBA loans. This means that Conexus member businesses in Saskatchewan poured $58 million into the province’s economy.
Conexus decided to donate its administration fee for administering the loans to the communities it serves.
“The amount was $200,000 and we (Conexus) thought, what could we do that would be very positive and further support the community with this money?” says Weimer.
There were many businesses and individuals that helped in any way they could during the early days of the pandemic and Conexus wanted to recognize this.
“Some just fantastic things started to happen and we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if we could create a fund that was quick and easy (to access) to recognize individuals and businesses that were doing these great and kind things and maybe give them a little bit more money so they could keep doing these things that were helping all kinds of people all across the province. Because we are a Saskatchewan company, we obviously want to do things that touch all parts of the province,” says Weimer.
This idea would become the Conexus Kindness Capital Fund.
The criteria for Kindness Capital Fund recipients are:
a) Nominees must live or operate their business in Saskatchewan.
b) Nominees must be over 18 years of age.
c) The act of kindness must have occurred in response to Covid-19, starting around or after March 13.
d) Nominations that are missing information will not be evaluated.
e) Nominations will only be accepted if submitted through the online form on kindnesscapital.ca. Those that are delivered to Conexus branches will not be accepted.
Once the complete information was submitted, it was up to the people at Conexus to choose which nominees would receive the Kindness Capital Fund.
“We created a matrix so that we could go through each question and give it a rating based on how it was responded to and if a company or individual meets the threshold, then we let them know that they are a successful recipient and then we release the funds right away,” explains Weimer.
Handing over the funds has been the high point of the project.
“It’s really brought out some inspiring stories. It has been fun where we have been able to go out, of course socially distancing, and present this money to all the different groups and people who are doing all these great things,” says Weimer.
On July 22, Conexus announced that they had reached the halfway mark having re-invested $100,000 across Saskatchewan. 20 recipients have been awarded $5,000 each.
One of the lucky twenty recipients of $5,000 is Moosomin-born Kim Beutler, now Kim Zacaruk who owns and runs the Stone’s Throw Coffee Collective in Regina.
“Kim is one of the perfect examples of what inspired us to have this program. We saw what she was doing just by herself and the difference she was making, so how amazing to give her $5,000 to keep going,” says Weimer.
Hub of the Community
Kim Zacaruk is a Saskatchewan native, having been born in Moosomin and raised in Wapella and Regina.
Six years ago she bought the Stone’s Throw Coffee Collective, however the business is an established mainstay in Regina. “I have owned it for six years. Before that I used to work in government and non profits and most recently before I bought (Stone’s Throw), I ran a human resources team with the Ministry of Corrections and Public Safety and Policing and Justice,” says Zacaruk.
Owning a place like the Stone’s Throw was something Zacaruk has always wanted to do with her life.
“It is not really about the food and beverage to be quite honest, although it is an important piece, but it has always been about community and connection. That is what drove me,” explains Zacaruk.
She goes on to say that for her a coffee shop was a symbol of community her entire life.
“Whenever we were on holidays or camping or hiking and biking either by myself or with my kids, the coffee shops always seemed to be the hub of the community, so it was always that connection piece,” says Zacaruk.
Owning a business is tough even when there is no pandemic, but Zacaruk persisted.
“It has been a myriad of ups and downs. The economy in Saskatchewan has not been great these past couple of years and we were just sort of finding our footing, I was up to full staff and feeling good about things. This January, February we were on an upward trajectory. Our revenue was up significantly from previous years, so I was actually feeling pretty good,” says Zacaruk.
Then in March the Stone’s Throw along with many other businesses across the country had to shut its doors as the pandemic gripped the world.
“Within a course of two to three weeks, my revenue plummeted down to 30% of what it normally would be,” says Zacaruk.
With the doors shut to sit-down business, and with an abundance of stock, the question became, what to do with all the food. It wasn’t just a matter of giving it all away as is.
“What I am always conscious of because I have done some work in community before with non profit and homelessness initiatives and so on, is that sometimes just taking people packages of meat and packages of cheese is not the best thing. So we started contacting these organizations and asking does it make sense for us to make 50 sandwiches, is there a need? There absolutely was a need because their needs were spiking and donations were dropping off, because things where in such a state of flux,” says Zacaruk.
Open and honest communication was key to make sure that organizations got what they needed and to make sure that the food was not going to go to waste.
“I was really honest with the people I called saying if there really is not a need for you guys, let me know, because we don’t want to throw food where it is not necessary and we are happy to call someplace else. Everybody was really good with that,” explains Zacaruk.
The whole process was documented on the Stone’s Throw’s various social media platforms and when the community saw what Zacaruk was doing, they wanted to help.
“People started messaging me, saying, ‘Can we help, can we donate money and will you guys put it to use and keep on making food?’ So that turned into $3,500 in donations over the course of three weeks. That was anywhere from a $10 donation to a $1,000 donation. Most of them were in the $50 to $100 range. So what we did was put that dollar amount to our wholesale food cost,” says Zacaruk.
Stone’s Throw staff would donate all the time and labour and that allowed them to stretch that $3,500 as far as possible.
“We estimated that we could get 1,500 to 1,700 lunch kits. A lunch kit consisted of a sandwich and a piece of fruit or a muffin or in some cases we had cakes and chocolate bars that had been donated,” says Zacaruk.
The Stone’s Throw became a way for the community to help those in their midst that were hit hardest by the pandemic.
Kindness Capital Fund
With so much support from her customers and the community, it was only a matter of time before the Stone’s Throw would be nominated for the Conexus Kindness Capital Fund.
“I had gotten a call from one of our customers and she said ‘I’d like to nominate you for a Conexus Kindness Capital award.’ All she needed was a photo and an email address and permission. So, I said sure and then I went online to look at the award and realized we must have been nominated by someone else, because there was already a picture but not of me. It was of one of our staff,” says Zacaruk.
Peace, Love and Coffee
Conexus awarded $5,000 to the Stone’s Throw Coffee Collective in mid July.
“I was heavily emotional. There is so many reasons to be emotional through this whole thing. We had wonderful staff... When all of this (lock down) happened I talked to the staff and said we could stop we could just say we are closing up shop, but that is not what we stand for and if there is ever a time to stand for what you stand for, it is when things get rough,” says Zacaruk.
The time and effort that Zacaruk and her staff were putting into helping the community in these strange times did not just get on Conexus’s radar, but others also wanted to help them help others.
“I think (people) liked to see their money be put to use by people that they knew. They could see people make sandwiches and then going into a Jeep that they knew and being delivered to a community organization. It was very tangible for them. Obviously they trusted us,” says Zacaruk.
The chain reaction of kindness would not stop there as a customer who was able, volunteered to pay the staff for their time and effort.
“The staff was willing to volunteer their time, which was amazing, but I did have a person come forward and offer to pay all their time, and then one of my staff members still took that cash that I paid them and donated it to a community organization,” says Zacaruk.
The question now is how best to use the $5,000.
“One of the ideas that I had a long time ago is called Suspended Coffees. It is an idea that was conceived in the UK. It is where you might come in and buy one coffee for yourself and then another one for someone who might need it in the near future. We got an area by our till and are going to call it like our coffee tree or our giving tree. So that someone who is down on their luck, can pick (a coffee a muffin a soup and sandwich) off the giving tree and they can just bring it to the till and they can grab a coffee that’s already been paid for by someone else. So what I’d like to do is use some of that (Conexus) money as seed money for that,” explains Zacaruk.
The idea of the tree is to make sure that those less fortunate can still come and be part of the community hubs like the Stone’s Throw.
“I think that it is something different from what we already have. People can go to the shelters or stand in line at soup kitchens and they can grab food, but I think the coffee shop is a different experience. It is about community and it is about belonging to something bigger than yourself. One of our customers said a long time ago that a coffee shop is the one place they can come to by themselves and not feel like they are alone. That really nailed it for me,” says Zacaruk.
Victor van der Merwe, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The World-Spectator