Sault Area Hospital Volunteer Association Ends Operation of Gift Shop

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The Sault Area Hospital Volunteer Association is ending the operation of the health care facility’s gift shop.

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Volunteers have occupied the shops at the former Plummer and General sites on Queen Street East since the 1950s before the hospital moved to its current location on the Great Northern Road in 2011.

There was no specific agreement with the volunteers on how long this arrangement would last,” said Teresa Martone, executive director of the Sault Area Hospital Foundation, in an email to the Sault Star. “The pause that the pandemic has provided has given many an opportunity to refocus and reassess how things are done, and how they might be done differently in the future.”

Volunteer auxiliaries began operating gift shops at the Plummer in 1951 and in 1959 at the General.

SAHVA has approached SAHF, the hospital’s fundraising arm, “to gauge interest” in taking over the gift shop in 2021, Martone said. The retail space was closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 “as efforts were made to keep everyone safe, including our volunteers.” The reopening of the gift shop was considered ‘too high risk’ when volunteers started to take over some tasks.

Most of the volunteers who were previously enthusiastic about serving there were from the populations most at risk for the virus,” Martone said. “The gift shop can be a busy area. While it was unreasonable to bring volunteers back into the gift shop, it was also difficult for our patients and staff to keep it closed.

The gift shop reopened last September, but the volunteer association “had concerns filling shifts,” President Bill Kerr said in an email to the Sault Star.

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After two years away and the many changes due to the pandemic, many of our volunteers have not returned or were uncomfortable returning. It was expected. Staffing has become an issue and you need volunteers who want to take on the responsibility of running a business. These people are not easy to find.

The gift shop hours were 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

It was hard to fill those shifts, so the hours became unreliable for patients and staff going to the gift shop,” Kerr said.

The association’s executive committee, made up of a dozen members, decided to put an end to the operation of the group’s gift shop at the end of last fall.

SAHVA, together with SAH and SAHF, decided that “the foundation would take over the operations,” Martone said. “This is a growing provincial trend, as gift shops are a source of revenue for foundations that support the purchase of medical equipment.

SAHF has partnered with Sweet Greetings to run the store. The Sault Ste. Marie Business began managing the approximately 700 square foot site in the hospital lobby on March 1. That opening was delayed due to the pandemic, co-owner Joseph Greco said. SAH is the company’s fourth location with a fifth location on Trunk Road due to open in mid-April. Sam DeSumma, Mark Febbraro and Frank Perna are also co-owners. They purchased the business from Jennifer Kotyk in 2020. She is responsible for day-to-day operations.

Selecting Sweet Greetings was a natural fit due to their well-established brand in the home and gifting space in our community, and their owners’ commitment to giving back to the community and their charity of choice – SAHF,” Martone said.

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Sweet Greetings signed a lease with SAHF which pays monthly rent and a percentage of profits to SAHF, Greco said.

Products featured include Godiva and anDea chocolates, Cornucopia Gourmet popcorn, and scented candles from Moon + Mana Candle Co.

For starters, sales are pretty good,” Greco said of the first two weeks.

Current store hours are weekdays 9am-5:30pm, Saturdays 10am-5pm, and closed Sundays. These hours are expected to increase as COVID-19 ebbs.

We will make ourselves even more accessible to people up there,” Greco said.

The decision to stop running the gift shop brought “a mixture of feelings, mostly sadness”, said the SAHVA president, who has volunteered with the group for 20 years.

Interaction between patients and volunteers was a primary goal, a place where patients could get a sympathetic ear, someone to have a conversation with, be listened to, a place where staff could get away from their unit, browse, find a listening ear again,” Kerr said. “Part of the upcoming arrangement is that volunteers will still be welcome to help out in the gift shop, but we know it will be different.”

Greco expects Sweet Greetings to let SAHF decide what equipment to buy based on dollars raised by the store, but may make requests based on public feedback.

The foundation knows better than anyone what our hospital needs,” he said. “It’s not something I’m going to meddle in and I think they need the freedom to do it. That’s all the foundation says they need. They can use the money to what they want.

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Greco also co-owns IDA Drug Mart, a Sault-based company that donates “tens of thousands (of dollars)” to SAHF each year.

Sweet Greetings employs 20 to 30 people, four of whom are based in the hospital.

SAHVA has raised $1.4 million for SAHF through various fundraising efforts, including the sale of break open tickets, raffles, an annual car show and the gift shop. Association members would focus on fundraising for specific equipment, including a CAT scanner and a cardiac catheterization lab. A fundraising committee continues to assist patient care and SAHF.

This hospital would not be what it is today without these volunteers,” Greco said.

[email protected]

On Twitter: @Saultreporter

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