By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
The latest chapter in the life of the little Sunday School building that sits in front of St. Andrew’s United Church in Grafton has come to an end, with the closing of the Heavenly Helpings thrift store that occupied its premises for 17 years.
Committee chair Laurie Deviney said the project actually began 18 years ago, when the building became vacant, and Heavenly Helpings opened its doors in October 2003.
The building was originally the Presbyterian Sunday School, Deviney said, and it was built some 40 years after the construction of what is now St. Andrew’s in 1844. The 1884 date can still be seen on stone above the door of the building, which was left vacant after the Grafton Public Library moved down the road a few doors to larger premises at the Grafton Community Centre.
Then the question of finding a new tenant came up at a board meeting.
“We were spending a lot of money just to keep the little building heated, because it hadn’t had a rental in quite a while,” Deviney recalled.
“We reached out to the community, and people from all over the community stepped up. A committee was formed.”
Their work in those early days mostly involved setting the stage for this a new tenant by sprucing up the place – painting, cleaning up, fixing the horsehair plaster. Then they decided the new premises would house a thrift store, modelled on the one in Brighton that is run by the Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church.
“We did some research and decided to provide clothing for people in need, and it was a good way to keep the building occupied,” she said.
They expanded the volunteer base to run the new operation, selling not only affordable donated clothing but the handiwork of the church’s Quazy Quilters group – beautiful hand-made quilts at reasonable prices.
The store served an important community need and generated revenues for the building. The committee was even able to give it a new roof and a new furnace.
As for the surplus funds, Deviney said, “We didn’t want to be a charity on our own – we wanted to take the money and give it to existing charities.”
Over the years, she estimates that they donated almost $15,000 to Northumberland charities. Deviney mentioned a few – the Beginnings Pregnancy Care Centre, Salvation Army, Food For Thought, Green Wood Coalition, Cornerstone Family Violence Prevention Centre, Northumberland United Way, Community Care Northumberland, and a hot-lunch program in Colborne.
Over the years, a wonderful and dedicated group of volunteers could always be counted on to give their best but – like so many people these days – they had many other obligations and increasingly found it difficult to put in the hours that Heavenly Helpings needed.
And while the pandemic is not the reason for the shop closing, Deviney said “COVID didn’t help. Some of our volunteers are older, and we didn’t want to put them at risk.
“But they always loved that little shop, offering good quality stuff. There are actually three original volunteers, and pretty much everybody that has been involved has done a lot of work – especially at the beginning.
“It was all very positive. We just knew it was time to give it back to the church and let the church find a new use for it.
“It was a unanimous decision to close our doors and make room for that building to recreate itself.”
What form that may take is up to the church as the building’s owner. But the committee is glad to have been able to leave it in a better place than they found it. And Deviney hopes the community will stay tuned to see the beloved little building’s latest chapter.