If one were to say, “happy anniversary, happy anniversary, happy anniversary,” one might think they had the stuck record syndrome, stuck in the same groove over and over again. But that is not the case here.
“We are a community centre,” said Becky Schille, director of the Olive Tree. “We offer high quality or good quality items to the public at a very reason- able price, and our store supports our soup kitchen and our programs.”
The Olive Tree has a few inaugural dates to choose from. “We started serving barbecues in the spring in 2013.
We’ve been in this building (Lloydminster Church of God) since Sept. 15, 2013. So we are just shy of our anniversary in this building,” said Schille.
Another service the Olive Tree provides is they offer meals three times per week at no charge. During the summer months the soup kitchen only operates Monday and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m.. With Friday being the slowest night of the week, supper on Friday will start back up again in the fall.
Besides those two obvious and much needed services, Schille said the Olive Tree offers many other important programs and services.
“We spend a lot of time with our guests individually in supporting them and helping them get their birth certificates or find employment or help them deal with anything they might be going through,” she said.
Help with family issues, addiction issues and really just helping people deal with the red tape of life. There is a broad spectrum of areas that Schille and her staff help guests with, and she emphasizes, “It has to be individual. Each person needs something different, and needs to be dealt with in a different way.”
There is no set plan in place. This is not a restaurant of services with a set menu. Each individual is met, then there is the ‘getting to know you’ stage, followed by appropriate actions to provide what the guest needs.
The Olive Tree got its start innocuously enough when, “Gail Willis and I met a pregnant single mother. She had two children and was pregnant with a third and she was going to be homeless,” said Schille. “We were helping her find housing and everything she would need to fill a home.”
In searching out resources for that project, “We found there was lots of awesome resources in Lloyd, but there were definitely some things that were missing, things that needed to grow,” said Schille.
Their answer was to pack up a barbecue, did some fundraising and started serving burgers on the lawn. Willis is the soup kitchen’s cook on Wednesday nights.
“That’s probably why it’s our busiest night,” complimented Schille.
As for the thrift store, that began operating about last October.
“So, it’s grown very quickly,” said Schille. “We were blessed by the Salvation Army. When the Salvation Army store closed, we purchased all of the racks and everything, so we were able to open up quite quickly in an organized, business-like manner.”
Between the closing of the Army store and the opening of the Olive store, only six months went by without access to this type of service, which became abundantly clear about how much this was needed in the community.
Formerly a Salvation Army Store employee, Schille had the experience and met many people and volunteers to learn first hand about this part of life in Lloydminster. Selling quality items at a good price is only one aspect. The other, is the volunteer base that may be getting older, they still have a place to go, socialize and provide some much needed help.
On the other side of the counter, the same goes for customers, or as Schille refers to them, guests. Out of the hundreds who regularly pass through their doors, there are the regulars, and about 60 people a night enjoy a good meal on the two nights they serve.
One can gather from the amount of visitors to the store and the suppers, that a guest is not needed, but the services are. At the same time, Schille believes, “Our goal is to be preventative in everything we do. Instead of waiting for people to become homeless, we want to support them before to prevent that from happening.”
Most of the food that is served from the kitchen is donated. Meals are planned a month in advance, and making the best use of what is in the pantry is the priority. There are always a few last minute items required, but that is what the food cards are for. They are also donated.
Profits from the thrift store pay for any shortages for the soup kitchen, as well as all the bills for the store.
When asked if she sees a difference after a year and day-by-day, Schille responded, “We’ve met so many amazing people, who always come to my mind. It’s been awesome to watch them transform in the last year.” And one person specifically that has done a lot of growing through the assistance and kindness he receives at the Olive Tree, said Schille.
Lloydminster is a mecca for blue-collar workers who come from all over to get their lives back in working order with the many employment opportunities in the oilpatch. To fill the need for those who require, but cannot afford, hard hats, steel toed boots and coveralls etc., the Olive Tree keeps a supply on hand, including welding jackets and work gloves. Schille said guests can just take them if they are needed.
“We’ve been very, very blessed,” said Schille. “It’s been such a fun journey. I am very grateful for this opportunity. It’s been awesome.”
The new store is located in the former Pinnacle Computers store in Meridian Plaza on 50 Avenue. It will provide plenty of room, which will be needed, because of the generosity of some local businesses, who are providing many items that are brand new and never been used, such as a large variety of new shoes and new clothing.
Schille is looking forward to working out of the new location, no stairs, plenty of parking and plenty of floor space. The soup kitchen will remain in the church. Long term, she wants the kitchen to operate out of a community centre.
The Olive Tree is fundraising and working with the City of Lloydminster to find the right place to build their centre. The future looks bright after a successful first year. It will look even brighter in their new store.