For 10 years, Savvy Seconds has offered free clothing to women and families in a rural community outside Ottawa as a way to fight invisible poverty and help people cope with everything from unemployment to tornadoes.
Founded by Vera Jones in 2011, Savvy Seconds has grown from the owner’s garage to a small room connected to the local food bank in Kinburn, Ont.
Ms. Jones, who has a degree in women’s studies and law and a background in small business, began Savvy Seconds as a way to give back to her community and help minimize domestic stress. Most importantly, she didn’t want money to be the heart of her new business.
When she started, her focus was on women.
“At first, it was just women, because that’s something I understand. Every woman I know has been abused, terrified – something in her background – could use a safe place, and so I started this little free thing and I turned my temporary garage into a boutique,” Ms. Jones said.
Her clientele has ranged from women escaping situations of domestic abuse, to those re-entering the work force, to survivors of natural disasters. Ms. Jones has the help of 15 volunteers, most of them retirees, and runs her business solely with local donations, all without keeping any financial books.
In 2017, she secured the location in Kinburn with the help of Ottawa City Council and was able to expand to men’s and children’s clothing. She believes that by taking the stress of money out of the equation, Savvy Seconds is helping families come together, particularly low-income families.
“I’ve seen couples come in here, nearly choking each other because of the stress. They don’t have anything. They don’t have any money, and when they can start actually picking out clothes for their kids and things, that doesn’t hurt their wallet, they start working together,” Ms. Jones said. “The dynamic changes between them.”
Ms. Jones’s parents and grandparents were refugees from the Czech Republic and she remembers learning to work with fabric from her grandmother.
At Savvy Seconds, racks of women’s clothing fill the small room. Baby and children’s clothing line one wall and men’s clothing, another. The only available storage is a shower area in the next room or at the homes of volunteers. A small bulletin board features pamphlets about programs for those facing domestic violence or opioid use, or in need of hospice care.
Savvy Seconds has yet to run out of stock. On most days, donations from all over the city of Ottawa end up in bags on the doorstep of the shop or at Ms. Jones’s own house. After a tornado ripped through the community in 2018, Savvy Seconds received donations in four shipping containers, with new clothing sent from all over the province.
“We were busy seven days a week for months,” Ms. Jones said. “Stores sent boxloads of clothes, overstock clothing from the St. Lawrence Seaway, from Milton, Ontario. People just wanted to help so much.”
Connie Cyr, 65, has benefited from Savvy Seconds both as a customer and through her work as a personal support worker in Ottawa. She is able to pick up much-needed clothes for her clients.
“Most of them are on low income, and their husband has died, or the wife has died, and they’re suffering their own medical problems, and they don’t have the extra money to blow 100, 200 bucks on clothing. So, if they need pants, or sweaters, or socks, or anything, I can always ask Vera,” she said.
As the cost of living continues to go up, Ms. Cyr says places such as Savvy Seconds are needed more than ever.
Ms. Jones has expanded to helping organizations such as the Elizabeth Fry and John Howard societies of Ottawa, Larga Baffin – a boarding home for those coming to Ottawa from Nunavut for medical treatment – and pop ups with various local First Nations groups. Four years ago, Savvy Seconds was part of a back-to-work event for women with Tungasuvvingat Inuit, an Inuit-specific urban services provider in Ottawa.
For Ms. Jones, fighting invisible poverty – poverty that is not obvious to the eye – will continue to be an essential aspect of her shop. Particularly for women.
“A lot of women are one man from poverty, and that’s in our society. That’s the way it is,” she said.
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