David Fast (centre) was once homeless

David Fast (centre) was once homeless

Chilliwack thrift shop offers hope

Chilliwack thrift shop StreetHope New & Used goes far beyond sales to support those in need.

An elderly man in Chilliwack has a place to sleep for the second week in a row, thanks to a courageous apartment building manager, and sympathetic owners of a young local thrift shop.

Fifty-five-year-old David Fast spent a few days out in the cold, having to take his insulin shots outside, and nothing but his wheelchair to hang on to. David qualifies for welfare assistance, but couldn’t receive a cheque until he found an address. His son, Jeff Fast, can’t house him in his cramped home. Jeff spent last week knocking on 10 apartment buildings, before Verna Lebel opened the door.

“I was just so broken up when I saw them. I thought, ‘I can’t turn them out. I just can’t.'”

In her 11 years as manager of Lanai Apartments on downtown’s Cook Street, Lebel had never done anything like this. She took a risk, and welcomed David into the building in which she had taken great pains to create Chilliwack’s first crime-free multi-housing program a decade ago, securing the building exterior and forging a community spirit within.

There was an immediate difficulty: David had no furniture or household items, except for a couch his son brought in. Lebel saw this wouldn’t do, so she went to neighbourhood thrift shops to buy what she could on the $100 that son Jeff gave her.

When she walked in to StreetHope New & Used, a thrift store at 8982 Young Road, just South of Cheam Avenue, married owners John Hood and Bev LeDrew immediately took interest. Lebel told them the full story.

The couple ended up donating a full bed with mattress and box spring, a four-drawer dresser, bedding, and a metal bar that helps a person get in and out of the bathtub.

Since opening the store in Dec. 2011, John and Bev have routinely helped Chilliwack’s residents get back on their feet. Last week, they donated kitchenware, recliners, and a mattress to a five-member family fresh off the bus from Nova Scotia, who arrived back to their hometown of Chilliwack with nothing.

“Here’s the necessities to get you started, and let’s see where you go from here,” says John of the donation.

Three weeks ago, StreetHope supplied a full house of furniture to a recently single young mother of five children between the ages of three and 11.

Five weeks ago, the couple paid it forward by giving an electric scooter to a man with liver disease, that the store received as donation. They did the same with another donated scooter in December, giving it that time to an 83-year-old woman with osteoporosis.

Nearly all of StreetHope’s stock is by donation. Bev takes pride in organizing every single item in the store, from socks to sofas, and keeps the place pristine and smelling fresh. The couple wakes up before sunrise to send out letters requesting donations. They are now focussing on bringing in solid wood furniture that people can afford. They post pictures of most of their items, such as antiques, china, toys, and kitchen appliances, on their Facebook page. StreetHope also collects baby items, such as diapers and bottles, for the Meadow Rose Society, which then distributes them to moms in rural areas.

Trained as an addictions counsellor, John used to run two recovery homes in Chilliwack, and saw 70-80 people pass through the doors before turning exclusively to the thrift store.

“My wife and I, we both come from a past where there was money in our lives…But we don’t need much. It’s all about what we call, paying it forward.”

The couple “squeak by” on a single salary, living in their newly-purchased mobile home in Chilliwack, says Bev in her energetic and cheerful demeanor. They went to grade school together, and reconnected a few years ago while Bev was still living in the East. Back then, John told Bev: “I hope you fall in love with B. C., and I hope you fall in love with me.” And she did.

They now run StreetHope with their son Graeme.

“We’re trying to bring in a whole new idea of what a thrift store really should be,” says John, who believes that a thrift store in the community should “step up to the plate” and help people who are destitute and need a hand up. The couple now make it their business to help people as they can.

“We’re here to support them, to help them, to encourage them, to lift them up. If they need a pair of shoes or a pair of pants, we give it to them,” says John.

“We are not just StreetHope New and Used. We are behind our community,” says Bev.

They have received a third donated scooter, and David Fast is on the short list for it.

David has been having a very rough year. After being assaulted last summer, he suffered a stroke, and was in and out of the hospital, temporary home stays, and the streets. His son, Jeff, is also recovering from a brain injury, and is out of work. Jeff was near tears when StreetHope and Lebel stepped in.

“Someone’s helping me out when I’m going through this tough time,” he said. “It’s been very tough. I’m up against everybody.”

Lebel took on a lot, and continues to help David with many basic tasks, while they wait for home care from social services.

John and Dev see the case as another in many to come.

“We plan on being here for a long time,” says Bev.

“This is our community, this is our Chilliwack,” adds John.