West Island community group bounces back in time for holidays after devastating fire

·2 min read

It's been nearly a year since the West Island Assistance Fund's thrift store in Pierrefonds-Roxboro burned down, but the community group is back to selling goods and stockpiling food donations just in time to help families in need during the holiday season.

The group has found a new location for its thrift store as well as added motivation to keep doing what it's done for more than half a century, with demand for its food baskets growing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The fire was just a part of the big wall we had to climb," said Nathalie Béland, the chief of operations for the fund. "We had a 40 per cent rise in the clientele."

Sales from the thrift store usually account for half of the fund's operating budget.

Just weeks before Christmas, the fire destroyed the two-storey building located on Commercial Centre Street that housed the thrift store, equipment, computers and large quantities of donated toys.

The food depot next door remained intact, but given how cramped it was, the group used a subsidy to undergo major renovations so volunteers could do their work and maintain a safe distance from one another.

Kwabena Oduro/CBC
Kwabena Oduro/CBC

The pandemic also left the fund short-staffed with many volunteers no longer able to help.

"In one day, I lost six volunteers so we had to build back the team which is tough," said Béland. "People that are able to volunteer are usually elderly people."

Sales at the thrift store are going well, she said, adding that the challenges from the last year have shown just how resilient the community group is.

But Béland also credits members of the West Island community with helping to keep the fund afloat.

"The first day after the fire, they were there, they gave us money, they brought some food, they brought printers," she said.

Alexandre Letendre/Radio-Canada
Alexandre Letendre/Radio-Canada

Lots of toys were also donated, she added, enough for the team to go put on its annual toy drive next month.

The revival of the fund's operations is also a welcome sight for Thomas Bagg, who's volunteered there for close to 20 years and was eager to get back to work.

"I thought they needed me," Bagg said. "It helps me [because] I have a reason to get out of the house and it makes me feel great."