Good Neighbour Community Market is expanding, thanks in no small part to its team of volunteers.
The pay-what-you-can thrift store is opening an upper level as a regular thrift store with marked prices, meant to supplement the store below that serves customers with lower incomes.
WATCH ABOVE | Good Neighbour grows a following of young adults giving back:
“There’s a lot of folks who want to shop at our store to support us, but then they feel uncomfortable shopping and taking things away from clientele that need it,” said Alice Lam, one of the store’s co-founders.
“So this gives everybody kind of like an equal chance to kind of shop and still provide, you know, fundraising toward a good cause.”
While the sales income from the pay-what-you-can model is enough to cover the few necessary bills, operating the store without a team of volunteers would be difficult.
Having to pay wages for the few days a week they are open to donations and customers could be the difference between the not-for-profit staying open or having to shut down.
But the low-income clients who visit Good Neighbour aren’t the only ones benefiting from the store’s existence, either.
Inspiring community builders
Gabriella Wong Ken’s love of volunteering and community building began at a young age.
Born to immigrant parents, she says her family was always looking for a community to belong to, which often lead to volunteering in those spaces.
“When I was younger, I was often just kind of tagging along as part of it, and now I feel really proud that I get to kind of be more of like on the creator end of kind of creating these environments for other young people to come now.”
The 26-year-old says that along with contributing to her community, her experience volunteering at Good Neighbour since the doors first opened about a year and a half ago has introduced her to like-minded people.
“You can start collaborating with them on new projects, and also it’s just really great to be in a community of people who all have a shared common goal and want to give back and kind of have a lot of similar values as well,” said Wong Ken.
The experience has also given her skills she can use in other areas of her life that she otherwise wouldn’t have gained.
“I have no, like, real construction knowledge. Not much of that at all. But through this store, I’ve learned so much. Just like little things, you know, that I never would have picked up at my career on a daily basis.”
In addition to building a community, Good Neighbour’s co-founder says the store has grown a following of young people looking to give back in a direct way.
“It’s run by youth, too. Like the average age of the co-founders is 25 to 30 years old. So it’s really cool to kind of see something that’s led by this younger generation of Calgarians and they want to be a part of it,” said Lam.
Wong Ken says they have a variety of ages and backgrounds on their team, but she understands how Good Neighbour appeals to younger volunteers looking to curate their experience.
“There’s people painting, there’s people cleaning, there’s people moving items and participating in kind of whatever way they want to. So I think it also, for young people, it kind of gives them the power to choose also what they want to do.”
Lam says that freedom of choice helps young volunteers consider the possibilities of their own future in the city.
“People are always saying, ‘Oh no, young people are all leaving,'” said Lam.
“Actually, I’m getting a lot of young people moving to Calgary because they see projects and initiatives that look like this and they say, ‘You know, Calgary is a place where I can start a project.'”
While Lam and her team have always had access to the extra space, she says they took time to consider how the expansion could make the biggest impact.
As 2022 came to a close, they made their plans a reality during a three-day volunteering blitz to get the new store ready to open on Jan. 7.
It’s a reality Wong Ken didn’t necessarily see coming, but it’s one she’s excited to be a part of.
“When we started the store, we had no idea what was going to happen. We weren’t even sure if we would last a week,” she said.
“Now it’s been over a year and now we’re expanding. So yeah, anything is really possible.”
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