Tucked away in a corner of Hope, a group of the Fraser Canyon Hospital’s hardest working volunteers are busy stocking a space under 500 square feet full of Christmas items.
It’s a space that would be hard to do a pirouette in even with bare walls. Now with knitted baby clothes and Christmas ornaments hanging from all angles there is just enough room to step in and do some shopping. Under the direction of shop manager and treasurer Lynda Beecham and marketing manager Nancy Hutsul, the gift shop has been ‘revitalized’.
It started with $450 worth of stock brought in three years ago. That has now grown to $4,000 worth of stock brought in this year, everything from jewelry to children’s toys, to gifts, watches, wallets, purses, scarves and the all-time best-sellers, candy bars.
“We’re just having fun playing store,” said Hutsul. “It’s very tiny but we have…a big range of things in this tiny space. And so that’s a big change.”
There are also some handmade items. Two very industrious auxiliary knitters have the clothing racks filled with knitted children’s clothing and hats.
Clothing is a big draw and each piece stocked at the gift shop is more or less one-of-a-kind. Having few pieces that are the same is important in a small town, to avoid the awkward run-ins at the grocery store or out on the town.
The vibe of the clothes the auxiliary brings in is ‘easy to wear with a feminine touch.’ So popular are the clothes, many hospital staff shop here and hospital director Catherine Wiebe has told Beecham the gift shop is ‘her go-to place.’
“The thing is lots of these people work really long hours and so it’s pretty convenient. That was unexpected. You think in a hospital gift shop it’s going to be items for patients…but it’s not, it’s mostly the people that work here. So it’s almost like a service (for the) 100 people that work in the hospital,” Hutsul said.
A point both Beecham and Hutsul want to emphasize is the price point of their products, which is kept low for several reasons.
“Number one we don’t want to have all this stuff and not sell it. Number two is because we are small and we are out of the way, we are not in the town,” Beecham said.
“We have to be gentle with our pricing because of the community that we’re in too, right. We know when we do our markups that it’s not what other places do, and we’re cautious with that,” Hutsul said.
The gift shop donates all of its profits back to the work of the auxiliary, which often involves purchasing equipment for the hospital. The 16 volunteers that staff the gift shop do more than just hawk these wares, they are also one of the first points of contact within the hospital so they get a lot of people asking for directions or stopping to chat.
Often the people they meet are in some sort of family or medical crisis, so a friendly face can go a long way.
“Someone’s in emergency or they’re stressed out, it’s just a break for their brain. They can come and stare at the chocolate bars, look at things. Just the fact that we’re open and there’s something else to look at or think about, really means a lot,” Hutsul said. “It’s a little bit of comfort for them.”
Beecham remembers talking with two men who looked like they had been through quite an ordeal. “I said ‘you look like you’ve been in a car accident,’ and he says ‘we were.’ They were all beat up. One of them had to be flown in and the other two were sitting here waiting for emergency. And they get to talk about it a little bit, because you’re here,” she said.
One day a woman from Alaska came in to do some shopping as Beecham and Hutsul were working on gift store stock. She ended up being the biggest spender the gift shop had ever had, and she shared her story with Hutsul.
“When she was a child she was coming down through the Fraser Canyon and their father had a heart attack. And he was taken to that little hospital,” Hutsul recalled. The woman’s father was cared for at the hospital, and because his stay there was so long the family ended up living in Hope for a time. She even went to school here.
“She had these beautiful memories of how the community wrapped around them and how this hospital took care of her dad and so she made a specific stop there and she did a whole bunch of souvenir shopping. She bought things for her whole family,” Hutsul said.
“I like to give to the community, I like to meet people and it gives me a good feeling to help out,” said Terry Wilson, a volunteer at the gift shop and the auxiliary’s only male member.
The auxiliary is also looking for a Christmas gift of their own, more volunteers are needed so the gift shop can extend their hours.
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