More than 35 years ago a kind woman in Zurich decided to offer some used clothing to people in need in her community. Before long, Blessings of Zurich had a location on the main street and began to expand. Today, an army of 30 volunteers sells donated clothing and furniture and operates a food bank serving up to 35 people a week, and a benevolent fund that helps with other expenses. In 2020, the Sunset Community Foundation helped Blessings continue its work while adapting to the realities of Covid.
“At first it was all so uncertain,” says manager Anne Harburn of the pandemic. “The store was closed. The food bank was still operating but it was down to one volunteer, and because our space is so small, we had to take orders by phone and then bring the food out to people.” Curbside pick-up and deliveries were both used to get the food where it was needed most. Although there was little revenue from the store, donations of food and funds grew. Local grocery stores and the Huron County Food Bank Distribution Centre continued to support the operation. Says Anne: “It was tough, but we were always here for anyone who needed us. We will continue to be, whatever happens. We don’t turn anybody away.”
Although usage dropped off early in the pandemic when people were unwilling to go far from home, it has picked up again. Anne notes that some regular clients have moved away to find affordable housing, while some new families, hit hard by Covid, have begun to access the service.
Through the federal Emergency Community Support Fund, the Foundation was able to fund the purchase of a new freezer and two trolleys. The freezer enabling the food bank to purchase food on sale and then freeze it for longer storage. One trolley is used to take food out of the building, so that clients can wheel it to their car and load up. The other trolley is loaded with special items, often personal care products, from which clients can select in private.
Now that the store is open again, Anne is looking forward to the time when clients can enter the small food bank area and have a real shopping experience. In the meantime, the food bank is open one day a week, the store operates five days a week, and donations are accepted on three days. Says Anne: “It’s so good to see people again!”