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Future of Vernon, B.C., thrift store and charity Christmas hampers at stake after flood

Volunteers at the Animal AuxilIary Thrift Store in Vernon, B.C., are scrambling to put together holiday food hampers together for more than 50 locals after a flood at the store destroyed donations. The hamper in picture does not depict an actual hamper from the store. (Mark Cumby/CBC - image credit)
Volunteers at the Animal AuxilIary Thrift Store in Vernon, B.C., are scrambling to put together holiday food hampers together for more than 50 locals after a flood at the store destroyed donations. The hamper in picture does not depict an actual hamper from the store. (Mark Cumby/CBC - image credit)

Gena Barzan says she was devastated when she arrived Tuesday morning at the thrift shop she operates and saw cardboard boxes full of donations floating in water.

"When I opened the door, it was like a horror movie," Barzan said. "It was like five taps had let go."

Barzan is the executive director of Vernon, B.C.'s Animal Auxiliary Thrift Store, which relies on volunteers and fundraising to raise money for various animal rescue groups.

Every December, the store in the north Okanagan city auctions donated items to cover the cost of Christmas hampers that go primarily to seniors on fixed incomes.

"These hampers are supposed to help them so they don't have to spend their pension one month out of the year, so they can take that money and apply it to a bill or whatever they need," said Barzan.

But after heavy rain battered the store's leaky roof Monday night, Barzan found almost eight centimetres of sloshing water on the shop floor. Many of those much-needed auction items were destroyed in the flood.

"When I saw this, it was just devastating to me I just couldn't help myself," said Barzan, speaking on CBC's Radio West. "Myself and all the volunteers we all just started crying."

The store will have to remain closed until an insurance inspector can assess the safety risk, said Barzan, and there is no set date for when the roof will be repaired.

Heavy rain and a leaky roof combined Monday night to cause flooding at the Animal Auxillary Thrift Store in Vernon, B.C.
Heavy rain and a leaky roof combined Monday night to cause flooding at the Animal Auxillary Thrift Store in Vernon, B.C.

Heavy rain and a leaky roof combined Monday night to cause flooding that damaged goods in the store. (Animal Auxillary Thrift Store/Facebook)

She worries that without a storefront, they won't be able to raise enough money to cover the $3,600 per month needed to keep the shop running. The shop, she said, makes about $400 per day.

While the store is closed, volunteers will be at the building taking auction donations that will be sold online as staff scramble to try and make hampers, Barzan said.

Calls have already come in from worried people who rely on the hampers over the holidays. Volunteers were hoping to put together 54 baskets with food for locals this year.

"It's very hard when people rely on something from you and you think that you might not be able to accomplish that," said Barzan.

Hamper preparations at Vernon, B.C.'s Animal Auxiliary Thrift Store on Nov. 30. The store was damaged by flooding in early December.
Hamper preparations at Vernon, B.C.'s Animal Auxiliary Thrift Store on Nov. 30. The store was damaged by flooding in early December.

Hamper preparations at Vernon, B.C.'s Animal Auxiliary Thrift Store on Nov. 30. The store was damaged by flooding in early December. (Animal Auxiallary Thrift Store/Facebook)

But the community is rallying with some area businesses already stepping up to provide food items to fill the hampers. Barzan said $1,100 has been donated since word got out about the flood, although auction items have been slower to trickle in.

"You can tell it's tight for everybody, it really is," said Barzan.

Amid rising inflation, many Canadian charities report being hit by a double whammy of rising costs and higher demand.

A report from Food Banks Canada published in October showed food bank usage has risen to its highest level since the organization began surveying people in 1989.

For now, Barzan and the store's volunteers are optimistic they will be able to make the hampers happen, even if they are smaller than the ones given in past years.

But the future of the store is a pressing concern.

"I'm very worried because if we close down for a lengthy period of time, we might not be able to recover," said Barzan.