Behind the scenes with the Lily Ann’s Dream Team
By Jenn Watt
Published Dec. 19, 2017
It’s a Wednesday morning in December, just after nine. The swift wind outside smells like snow as it whips dust down York Street and blows items out of the pile of donations at the door of the Lily Ann Thrift Store in Haliburton.
No matter how diligently volunteers work each day to gather and process the items left at the door, there’s always more. People in the Haliburton Highlands just like to give back, says volunteer Julia Robertson.
Robertson is working in the sorting area of the shop, to the left of the outdoor pile of donations. She’s got the coffee on and she and two other volunteers are busy sifting through today’s items. There are Christmas ball ornaments, still in their boxes stacked on the table, bags of clothes and some felt holiday stockings.
The volunteers who come in to sort donations are referred to as the “Dream Team,” which is said as a joke, but is far more accurate than they give themselves credit for.
Six days a week, the shop is alive with activity as these community members staff the cash register, sort clothes, clean and organize the merchandise.
On Wednesday, Dec. 6, volunteer David Ogilvie arrives at 9:40 a.m. to prepare for the onslaught of shoppers. He stocks the cash register and checks in with the Dream Team before opening the doors a little before the official store opening of 10 a.m.
As predicted, a lineup of eager customers has congregated at the door and they spill in along with a blast of cold air, swooping like seasoned pros to their desired rack of clothing.
Ogilvie moved to the Highlands about eight years ago, following the well-worn path of cottager-turned-permanent-resident.
“My wife and I knew we wanted to volunteer somewhere,” he says. “This was the easiest way to get involved.”
The Lily Ann Thrift Shop is part of the 4Cs organization, which runs the food bank, located across the street. As a charity, they operate Haliburton Village’s only food bank and also help those in need in other ways. If a family’s house burns down, they are invited to come to the Lily Ann for clothing and assistance. If a person doesn’t have a place to sleep, they will help them find somewhere.
Because the 4Cs has the income from the Lily Ann, it is able to go above and beyond in its assistance to the community, giving back quietly in unpublicized ways. It also means the funding for the food bank’s 183 clients is more secure.
Ogilvie not only volunteers his time behind the till at the thrift shop, he is also on the board of directors for the 4Cs and has been chairman for four years.
The business of the Lily Ann “is vital” to the food bank operations, he says.
“The revenue from the store covers the expenses at the food bank,” he says. On top of that, financial donations from the community come in regularly, which boosts the organization’s ability to do good.
Meals on Wheels, the school’s milk program, REC Room, pregnancy centre programming and Places for People have all received help from the 4Cs.
Julia Robertson became a volunteer about five years ago.
As she moves around the sorting area, Robertson joyously pores over the newly donated items, marvelling at what has been dropped off the night before.
Her parents were both volunteers with the organization, back when it was located on Maple Avenue across from Emmerson Lumber.
Her mother would do the same work Julia does today – sorting through items, making sure they are well presented for the shoppers – while her father would stop at the store in the evenings to tuck the donated items safely inside the locked doors.
She points out a wall of plastic laundry baskets, each labelled by theme or volunteer. While the 4Cs has a small amount of storage space, it is not nearly enough for the items dropped off. Items that can’t be sold locally are sent to other organizations usually in exchange for money. In the case of these plastic baskets, volunteers will take items home to clean, repackage and bring back when the timing is right.
A bin marked for Halloween is picked up by one volunteer who keeps all Halloween costumes at her house until the season comes back again.
A bin marked “Julia” is filled with children’s toys. Robertson has taken on the task of taking small children’s toys home, cleaning them up and grouping them to sell in baggies.
The Lily Ann was established in 1979 as a coming together of local churches, which were duplicating charitable work. The thrift shop was named after one of the local Salvation Army’s most dedicated volunteers, Lillian Hague.
Robertson says she still marvels at the giving nature of the town.
“I have worked in different organizations over the years and we don’t have a lot as a community, but we’re the most giving community,” she says.
Area cottagers will drive donations up from their homes as far away as London and Windsor to bring them to the Lily Ann, she says.
Across the street at the food bank, Judy MacDuff has been having a busy holiday season. While the need doesn’t change substantially in December, she’s busy taking phone calls for the Christmas vouchers given out each year.
MacDuff organizes the distribution of food, but is also involved with the thrift shop. When items come in that are better sold online, she puts them on Facebook auction to make some extra money for the food bank.
On the top of one of the shelves, MacDuff has a section dedicated to her online sale items. Today’s items include some fur-lined boots, a light-up Christmas tree and an ornate lamp.
What’s the strangest thing that’s come in?
Ogilvie and Robertson chuckle thinking of the strange items. Sometimes they won’t even know what something is – “either we’ll have no idea what it is or it seems useless,” Ogilvie says – but they put it on the shelf and a customer will know.
One time, a windsurfer’s sail was brought in.
“I thought, what are we going to do with this?” he says. A woman came in and said she wanted to buy it. She made it into an awning for her deck.
“There are so many creative people who come up with stuff,” Ogilvie says.
Artists in the community or studying at Haliburton School of Art and Design will also come in looking for materials. One woman came in buying dishes. Ogilvie says he pointed out that one of the plates had a chip out of it. She told him that was OK; she was intending to take it home and smash it into little pieces for a mosaic she was making.
They’ve also had several people come in to re-buy their clothing after a family member unwittingly donated them in error.
Since all of the money spent buying items at the Lily Ann goes back into the coffers of the 4Cs, which is then used to help other community members, it’s one of the easiest ways to donate.
“Every time people buy, they’re making a contribution to the food bank,” Ogilvie says. “It’s an easy way to do it. Just come and shop.”
The Lily Ann Thrift Store is located at 33 York St. in Haliburton and is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It will be closed Dec. 19 through to Jan. 2. (The Christmas voucher and toy distribution is on Dec. 21.)
For more information or to inquire about the food bank’s services, call 705-457-3331.