By Laura Keil

Jack Hoy, a retired railroader, stocked shelves at his local grocery store as a kid. Now, the retiree is back in the grocery aisles at a very different stage in his life, helping to sustain Valemount’s only major grocery store during a time of need.

“It’s interesting, it’s exercise, and I feel like I’m helping the community,” Hoy said of his new job at Valemount’s IGA.

After seeing the store struggle due to a variety of factors, including being short-staffed, Hoy and a group of local food bank volunteers decided to take matters into their own hands. The idea came after Ruth Hanus, a local B&B owner, saw the IGA manager on the floor pulling boxes open and putting things on the shelf. “I said, ‘I know that managers help out and stuff but this is getting kind of crazy, isn’t it?” Hanus said the manager replied that it’s part of her job. That’s what they do—keep things going so people can eat; it doesn’t matter if there’s 3,000 people or just the people that live in this community, people have to eat. She told Hanus she was going to do everything in her power to make sure the doors stayed open. 

Hanus recognized just how hard the store was trying to meet the demands and said to the manager: “You know what, I’m on it. I’ll figure it out.”

Hanus, Hoy, and Sherri Tinsley hatched a plan during a food bank volunteer day.

“We said, ‘let’s just be a team that we roll in on stock days, and then roll out, and it will be easier for the store to maintain their full-time staff. We can just be that assisting hand on those very busy days.’”

Due to WorksafeBC rules, they weren’t able to simply volunteer, they had to be on staff. So they applied to work at the store on stock days, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. When the truck arrives, the store calls the stock day recruits who work until the food is on shelves. 

Tinsley had to bow out due to work commitments, but another local, Dee May, signed up until she had to return to her B&B for the summer.

Hoy said the stock day workers fit in well with the full-time staff.

“I don’t see why they’re having labour problems,” he said. “The staff is friendly to us even though we’re just part-time, and everybody welcomes you right when you walk in the door.”

He said the job is satisfying and perks include getting to know the stock.

“You get to know what’s in the grocery store.”

Hanus, a former employment counsellor, said it’s a great gig for seniors, who may find themselves lonely or bored at home, and the scope of the job can be adjusted for different abilities.

“You get in the grocery store, which is the hub of the community, and people come by and they recognize you. And they may say hello, when you have a quick chat while you’re working. So it changes—it gives purpose back and meaning … you’re a vibrant part of community growth and stability.”

She said going to the store on stock days doesn’t even feel like a job.

“I don’t even feel like I’m working. Honest to goodness, you go there, you feel like you’re going somewhere important. It gives you purpose. I feel really connected to the community … it’s about being part of a bigger piece of the puzzle.”

She said she can take time off when she travels out of town. 

Mayor Owen Torgerson said he’s pleased people are willing to help out a business to keep the supply chain going.

“When the chips are down, folks are there to lend a hand,” Mayor Torgerson said. “It takes a community to make a village.”

Hanus encourages both young and old to apply.

“We can help the grocery store, get our steps in, make a couple of dollars, and also be very connected to the community.”