Most Stevestonites are familiar with the stucco building on the corner of Chatham Street and Second Avenue with its red front and side doors. It was originally home to Steveston Methodist Church, which was constructed in 1894 with a subsequent addition to the back in 1925. In 1975 it relocated around the corner to Broadway Street and became Steveston United Church.
Over the years the structure served many purposes including retail space for a bicycle store. In 2007 the building became the Richmond Hospital Auxiliary (RHA) Thrift Shop’s new home when its former location on Moncton Street and First Avenue met the wrecking ball.
Behind the scenes, the RHA Thrift Shop is a beehive of activity. The “red coat ladies,” as they are fondly known (along with a handful of “red coat guys” who are highly valued for their muscle power), busily toil to get donations sorted, priced and out onto the floor. The turn over is huge; the busy cash desk commonly processes 500 transactions a day.
In total RHA Thrift Shop has a roster of approximately 100 volunteers. Every penny raised directly benefits Richmond Hospital to purchase much needed equipment.
Richmond Hospital presents the RHA Thrift Stores’ board of directors with a wish list to purchase major pieces of equipment for the Hospital and fund music and therapy programs at Minoru Residence and Lions Manor. Funds raised have also purchased and help maintain two small buses for each residence and support a mobile dental clinic for Minoru Residence.
The Richmond Hospital/Healthcare Auxiliary was established in 1961. In addition to the Steveston thrift shop volunteers, another 340 Auxiliary volunteers donate countless hours of their time to assist at the hospital’s gift shop, lottery booth, information desk, marketplace located in the hospital’s main entrance, act as hospital navigators and help at Minoru Residence and Lions Manor.
Since the Richmond Hospital/Healthcare Auxiliary’s inception in 1961 it has contributed eight million dollars to benefit the hospital. The thrift store is by far the most lucrative of the Auxiliary’s involvements. It goes without saying Richmond Hospital’s staff is deeply appreciative of the Auxiliary’s dedicated and warm-hearted volunteers.
RHA Thrift Shop coordinator Ursula van Duin and day supervisor Barbara Dirnfield both put in unpaid full time hours. If they don’t happen to know the answer to a question one of the other red coat volunteers is happy to fill in the blank. The day I visited it was a bit like working on a jigsaw puzzle as a cluster of women happily stopped their work for a moment to contribute their historical knowledge. A number of helpers have been with the RHA Thrift Shop for many years. Volunteers range in age from 16 to 90 years old and are predominantly women.
The social aspect is a very important reason why people choose to volunteer. A fringe benefit is forming lifelong friendships.
Ursula points out, “A certain type of person volunteers.” She could easily be speaking about herself. This dynamo has a long history of contributing her time. She lived in the small community of Elliot Lake in Northern Ontario until she moved to Steveston to be close to her Richmond based daughter. In Ontario she was actively involved with the local hospital auxiliary and knew she wanted to carry on with community work in Steveston. In five short years she has become the shop’s coordinator and vice president of the board.
Barbara is the youngest of a family of four siblings. She can proudly say three generations of her family have been involved with the Richmond Hospital Auxiliary. Her mother, Joan McInnes, was one of original Auxiliary volunteers. Barbara recalls in the 1960s Auxiliary volunteers frequently visited their family home. She has been assisting at the thrift shop for two years alongside her sisters Laurie and Cathie. In addition, Cathie’s daughter Megan and her grandson Ethan help out, making this a true family affair with four generations having contributed their time.
Barbara shares, “Being around this group of volunteers is an eye opener. They’ve been through so much.”
Maria De Olazaval has been donating her services as public relations and social media coordinator to raise the shop’s profile. An updated website is in the works and a social media presence on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter is raising awareness of what’s going on behind the red doors.
All sorts of wonderful items can be found at RHA Thrift Shop. Children’s clothing is kept to a modest $1 per item. Here you will find gently used clothing (some designer labels) for women, men and children, shoes and household goods. You will also find beautiful used modern and antique furniture, lamps, home décor, jewellery, watches, books, toys, magazines, dishes, hardware, small electronics, sporting goods, craft supplies and many other treasures.
Every so often a surprise enters the mix. Ursula and Barbara recall a Rolex watch arriving amongst the donations. Sensing an error, they contacted a jeweller who discovered the watch had been stolen and reunited it with the owner.
The dedicated Red Coat team always goes the extra mile. They take some of the designer clothing home to launder and they polish the finer jewellery donations that they know will sell for a fair price if properly showcased.
Curio sales take place every second month and attract many collectors. Mark your calendar and follow RHA Thrift Shop’s social media – the next sale takes place on Saturday February 25 from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
If you are looking for a fulfilling opportunity to lend a hand and you look good in red (wink) the Richmond Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop is always looking for more volunteers. There is no greater reward than forming new friendships and knowing that your donation of time assists such a great cause. Thank you red coat ladies and gentlemen for the extraordinary service you offer to benefit our community.
Richmond Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Shop
3731 Chatham Street
Richmond BC V7E 2Z4