It’s hard to know where to start treasure hunting at the Seventy Mile Access Centre.
To the left is a book room, shelves crammed with used novels sorted by author, where a volunteer works diligently to sort and mark the books with stickers based on genre. Straight ahead, the corridor is lined with knickknacks, paintings, vases, and ornaments. A peek through an open door reveals a games room — stuffed sky-high with hundreds of DVDs, CDs, records, board games, puzzles, and VHS movies — while behind another door are the comforts of home: furniture, pillows, and even an old Bingo sign affixed high on the wall.
“It’s always a busy day here,” says SMAC spokesperson Kathleen Judd, as she walks briskly to the gymnasium and a stack of recently donated items waiting to be sorted.
Volunteers buzz from room to room, making sure not to get in the way of those on the hunt for treasures in the centre, a former elementary school. The busiest room contains racks of gently-used clothes, where bargain-hunters can fill a garbage bag full of shirts, pants, sweaters, and dresses for only $10.
“I love it, this place is awesome,” says shopper Devin Holt as he pays for a pile of new-to-him work clothes. “It’s such a good deal.”
The thrift store, open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., is a big draw for the public: on the day the Free Press visited, there was a steady lineup of shoppers waiting to get inside. But it only represents a small fraction of what takes place at SMAC on any given day.
The centre has become a hub of the community, offering far-reaching support to anyone in need whether they are near or far, explains Judd. It offers everything from weekly food hampers to local residents to baby clothes for underprivileged families in Mexico. New toys are collected throughout the year for families at Christmastime, donations are made to the local women’s shelter, support is offered to fire victims who need the basics to get back on their feet, and grocery and gas cards are available to those struggling to make ends meet.
“We don’t need to know the circumstances, in fact we don’t want to know,” Judd says. “We don’t intrude on their privacy at all.”
As a completely self-funded non-profit, SMAC relies heavily on generous donations from the public — which Judd describes as “overwhelming” — as well as a dedicated team of volunteers who keep the place running.
On the days the thrift store is open there are usually five or six volunteers on duty, ringing up customers, sorting through books, assisting shoppers, and manning the door. On the other days the team puts together food hampers, sifts through donations, and reorganizes the rooms.
“It’s not a normal 20-hour week,” Judd points out, adding there are enormous amounts of contribution that take place behind the scenes as well.
“We have people offering to bring their trucks or trailers to load up and take things to the dump, or other people who come in and give us a cheque for $200. Those are the people you don’t see.”
And while the volunteers at the centre work hard, they don’t forget to have fun and approach their work with a sense of humour.
When asked about the strangest items to appear in their donation box, Judd answers without hesitation.
“Oh, our sex toys would be the strangest things that come through the door. It happens quite often,” Judd says with a laugh, explaining that boxes full of mysterious wares from rental houses are often dropped off.
“We do giggle about those, that’s for sure. It cheers up our seniors.”
While the centre has had to scale back many of its activities this year due to COVID-19 restrictions — weekly soup and coffee offerings and pickleball are currently on hold, to name a few — the past two years have seen a lot of growth for the non-profit, something Judd hopes carries on in the future.
She says the group has aspirations to make the centre an access point during any sort of emergency, a muster point for safely housing evacuees or offering an information centre.
Judd says they are looking at ways to coordinate with the RCMP and other emergency services to explore that possibility. With the generosity of the community she has witnessed, Judd says SMAC’s future looks bright.
“It’s just amazing what the community does for us and what we have managed to achieve. People are really beginning to appreciate it.”