In the last week of January, Sandra Rainville and Carolyn Couchie, co-owners of the clothing consignment store Sandy’s Closet in Sturgeon Falls, packed up their fourth shipment of clothing to be delivered to a remote community in northern Ontario. The daughter-mother team have been responding to an initiative facilitated by Indigenous Unit OPP officer, Staff/Sgt Gilles Lachance to get the quality used clothing to communities that have no easy access to stores.
Rainville explains how she got involved, “Coming from a police family [her father George Couchie was with OPP] and a First Nation [Nipissing], I was aware of remote communities having clothing and financial insecurity. When I started [Sandy’s Closet], we consign name brand clothing, quality clothing, clothing that’s in style, accessories, shoes, jewelry, purses, things like that. I was getting a lot of things coming in that were very nice, in great condition, but a brand that maybe we don’t consign… [These items] are in good condition and some still have the tags on them. I thought – we have all these items, where do we go from here? We need to do something. Part of consigning clothes is that things don’t end up in landfills.”
Sandy’s Closet caters to a higher end shopper, receiving “items we might not wear anymore; we’ve lost weight, we’ve gained weight, styles have changed, or a dress we may have only worn once; all sizes from extra small to 4X.” Her consignment store took off, and in answering the needs of her clients, volume quickly increased. Soon, Rainville found herself with a higher volume of clothing than her shop could or would use.
“The items I pack up for the north are brands we don’t consign, or styles that may not be moving. Women in remote First Nations communities, even though they experience clothing insecurity, they still want to look and feel beautiful, and they want and desire nice items to wear! When you’re dressed well, and you like what you’re wearing, your confidence is increased and you feel better… These are items that might not be brands we consign, but are in beautiful condition.”
Rainville and Couchie pack these items up, and Gilles Lachance, the Aboriginal Liaison Officer with the OPP out of the North Bay detachment, is their partner in the venture. “We got talking and he said that in Beaverhouse First Nation, north of Kirkland Lake, you can fly in and boat in or skidoo in winter. It’s not easy access to get items into the community. Of course, they are also facing COVID, and mental health and addictions issues, and people in need. So, all these items, they are all clean, in perfect condition, boxed up and Gilles gets them to the community, and their community centre gets them out to the people who need them.”