The Story of Kingston’s Neighbourhood Sharing Centre
For more than 50 years, the Neighbourhood Sharing Centre has been responding to people in need throughout our community. Although it has changed over the decades, it has remained true to its mission and its enduring operating philosophy. The motto from its early years says it all: Share what you don’t need with those who do! It remains a volunteer-based organization with a very small organizing executive, monthly meetings where important issues and priorities are discussed by all volunteers, and a passionate commitment to make sure that donations and financial proceeds go directly to people in need or community organizations that serve them,
The Early Years
The founding impulse came from a small group of women at St Andrews-by-the-Lake when the Reverend Ben Garret and Marjorie McLeod, the area school nurse, informed them of the needs of impoverished families. The collection and distribution of donation was loosely coordinated without a structure or permanent location.
In 1965, a group of concerned women from St Andrews, St Thomas, and Our Lady of Lourdes gathered to form a committee to take the ministry to a more formal level. It was at that point that the name and the motto were chosen. Letters of appeal were sent to area churches, and the group finally got permission to use the Women’s Institute Hall, an old frame building under the water tower at the corner of Gardiner’s Road and Highway 2. Responses to the appeal were incredible, so much so that the building was soon overflowing with donations.
When the hall was demolished for expansion of the highway, the search was on for alternative locations. In fact, between 1965 and 1972, the Centre functioned from no less than seven locations: rent-free vacant stores operated by Earl McEwan; at the Lasalle Shopping Centre, and during the times-in-between, from space at St Andrews-by-the-Lake church. When the situation grew desperate and bleak, Earl McEwan would call and mention that one of his stores had just become vacant. It was a trying time, and the early volunteers grew to understand eviction and homeless feelings.
It was during this time that the volunteers realized that they needed to charge small amounts for the clothing and household items they provided clients. Some people were coming and taking the best “free” items, and then holding their own garage sales! (A bit of this probably still exists.) Having financial resources to distribute made it possible to directly support people in need and community organizations.
The Turning Point
The notes from early years continually mention Earl McEwan’s role in helping stabilize operations. It is clear that his support was crucial for early volunteers, especially after he became Reeve of Kingston Township. In 1972, the Township purchased an old farm house on the Days Road firehall property and offered it as a permanent home. But then in 1976, the Township Fire Services needed more space, and the Council approved plans for a truly permanent building beside Centre 70, just off Front Road. It was built and dedicated in the fall of 1976, with furnishings provided by several area businesses, many of which no longer exist.
Maintenance and upkeep were assumed by the Township, and later the City of Kingston after amalgamation. It remains the Centre’s permanent home to this day, provided rent-free so that the volunteers can continue to focus on sharing.
Into the Present
In the ensuing decades, there have been changes as older volunteers “retired” and new members of the “staff” have been recruited, usually through direct personal contact. It remains completely a volunteer-driven and organized concern: no one has ever received a salary! The number of volunteers has grown slightly over the years, to the point that more than 30 people help to keep the Centre open five days a week. Many volunteers are members of the founding churches, but many new recruits have no faith affiliation, only a shared commitment to the Centre’s mission.
Over the years, husbands of volunteers have played an important role behind the scenes in making sure that the Centre remains attractive and secure. That tradition continues, and one can only hope that men will increasingly join the ranks of active volunteers.
After almost five decades, the Neigbourhood Sharing Centre remains a going concern and a vital part of our community’s compassionate social support system. People are able to purchase clothes and useful items at a cost far below retail prices. Consistently, more than 95 percent of all revenues are shared with individuals and organizations across Frontenac County. Each year, significant financial contributions made are made: to defray the utility and dental bills of needy families; to Partners in Mission Food Bank, Martha’s Table and school breakfast program; to summer camp funds; and, to several other community programs.
None of this would be possible without the continuing involvement of dedicated volunteers and the ongoing donations of good clothing and small household items by people in the community. Those donations get wonderfully transformed into gifts that help to transform our community.
Let’s hope that the Centre remains a going concern for another 50 years!
Written in March 2012 by Sandy Cotton, using historical materials from the Centre’s files.