Community Champion: Jake and Mary Spoor feel blessed to give back to Vernon

Jake and Mary Spoor both emigrated from Holland with their respective families in the early 1950s.

Soon after they set foot on Canadian soil, they met and married in 1969. Over the years, they found ways to give back to their new community.

They purchased the Vernon Flower Shop in 1977 and despite being busy entrepreneurs, they spent many hours helping others.

Jake has served on a number of local boards over the years including the Vernon Jubilee Hospital and the Upper Room Mission and both he and Mary served on the board for the North Okanagan Gleaners Society.

As immigrants themselves, Mary and Jake understand how isolating it can feel in a new country and not understand the language. Their first venture into helping immigrants was with refugees from Vietnam in the 1970s when they with other members of their church helped five families settle in Vernon.

Since then, they’ve helped people who have arrived from Burma, Myanmar, Thailand and Ethiopia.

To help with accommodations, they purchased half of a duplex and the team would stock the kitchen with food from the culture of those who stayed there, welcoming them home. They befriended them, teaching them about their new country including basic life skills such as grocery shopping.

Mary explains, “Itís a privilege to help others and to have someone trust you.”

Some immigrants did not have English language skills, so when the team took them grocery stopping, it was explained that the label on the outside of a food can (i.e. peaches, beans, corn, etc.) depicted what was inside the can. This explanation worked very well until they arrived at the baby food containers with pictures of babies on the outside of the can. It was a funny moment for the “teachers” and a fleeting but frightening idea to the new immigrant.

Jake helped the North Okanagan Gleaners Society find a warehouse in Lavington for volunteers to process donated vegetables from grocery stores and agriculture producers into a dried soup product for distribution around the world to countries in need. The society also provides dried apple food snacks as a healthy treat for children in countries who request food aid.

Mary says, “We wanted to feed the hungry and this was a way to prevent good food from going to waste. We could send it overseas to places where it was desperately needed.”

As a former board member for Gleaners, Mary says, “One night I was looking at the Gleaners bank account and we needed new vegetable dryers and other equipment and we only had $45 in the bank.”

She wasn’t sure how they would survive until she had an epiphanal moment and the idea of a used furniture store popped into her head.

The store now has 6,000 square feet of space and is very successfully raising enough money to keep the Lavington plant going and pay for the expenses of the furniture store as well. Additionally, the store offers good quality furniture at low cost, allowing more people to be able to afford needed furniture.

While Jake and Mary Spoor have made a big difference in their community over the years, they remain humble about their generosity of spirit, time and money.

“We feel blessed that we are able to give back,” Mary said.

The monthly Community Champion feature is submitted by Respect Works Here, which is an initiative of the Social Planning Council of the North Okanagan. They are also the host agency for the Local Immigration Partnership Council and the Thompson Okanagan Respect Network.

READ MORE: Vernon community champion: ‘we are all part of a community, like a tapestry’

READ MORE: Community Champion: Hugh Carter celebrates teamwork in volunteering


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