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Steveston thrift store raising funds for foster care

By Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Published 11:38 PDT, Mon September 14, 2020

Lois and Gilles Bouchard were inspired to help children and youth in foster care after a firsthand experience left a profound impact.

“It began with a close association with a girl who was in foster care, and I had never experienced that quite so close up before,” says Lois. “(The girl) moved three times between the ages of 15 and 16, and I found that quite horrific.”

When she turned 19, the girl was given a $400 government cheque and left to fend for herself. This marked the end of government assistance. Her story ignited a desire in the Bouchards to provide a solution that offered more support for children in care, as well as a solution to those who’ve aged out of the government-funded program. 

Lois, who had a background in administration and research, sought to learn more about foster care. By chance, she found hope through SOS Children’s Village, a global organization headquartered in Austria. After attending a fundraiser at UBC, she connected with the Austrian team in 1981.

“It was a long journey,” Lois explains. “We had no funds or anything like that. It was very grassroots.”

The Bouchards spent the rest of the 1980s building their efforts, eventually holding seven fundraising events per year. They also sent out a quarterly newsletter to 10,000 people, which helped raised funds and attracted volunteers. Striving for a more consistent solution for raising funds, they were inspired by another neighbourhood thrift store.

“I had been following the progress of the Richmond Hospital Auxiliary, who have run a thrift store in Steveston for many years,” says Lois. “They would publish their annual report and I would read it and file it every year.”

At the same time, her own volunteers were working hard and showing “hints of exhaustion,” says Lois. So after an annual fundraising event in 1991, she started to develop plans for a Steveston thrift store to support children and youth in foster care. 

The community rallied around the Bouchards, who opened their first thrift store in the building that now houses Village Bikes. The community spirit of Steveston extends beyond the Bouchards, inspiring the rest of the SOS Children’s Village team.

“The Steveston store is such a hub for our community,” says SOS Children’s Village BC executive director Kistie Singh. “People come to be a part of the community, and feel rewarded for their work in the store.”

Later in the 1990s, the store moved to its current location which used to have a pool hall in the front space. The SOS Children’s Village team took over the back, which had been a music and dance studio, and converted it to a larger thrift store. When the pool hall owner retired, he offered the front space to the thrift store as well, and it’s been there ever since. 

The Steveston store was followed by a Kerrisdale location in 2006, but the main focus was always on the creation of a ‘village’—a small community of houses where children in care live together with a full-time parent. Lois says the Steveston community was incredibly supportive as volunteers, donors and customers.

“I don’t think we could have done this without Steveston,” says Lois. “It was the community spirit that made everything possible for us.”

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