‘It really affected me’: Calgary thrift store owner to donate retail sales to Beirut relief

“At the end of the day we have to take care of each other, whether we’re here in Canada or overseas."

Sue Ghebari stands behind the counter in her store, 17th Ave Thrift in Calgary on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. TSERING ASHA / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

The owner of a local business with a personal connection to Lebanon has pledged to donate her Aug. 8 store sales to relief organizations working in Beirut.

Sue Ghebari, owner and operator of 17th Ave Thrift, said that the video of Tuesday’s explosion at the Port of Beirut was a devastating reminder of the suffering facing the citizens of her homeland.

“It really affected me, it’s been a fairly tough week,” said Ghebari, holding back tears.

RELATED: Calgary prayer vigil held in wake of Beirut explosion

“Just to see Lebanon, in all its beauty and all its glory, once again suffer such great destruction, and having to rebuild once again. How many times can one people, one land, rebuild like that?”

How many times can one people, one land, rebuild like that?

– Sue Ghebari, Calgary thrift store owner

Ghebari was only eight years old when her village, Rafide, in the Bekaa valley of Lebanon, was bombed in 1973, leading to her parents’ decision to immigrate to Canada a year later with their daughter and two young sons.

According to Ghebari, the thought of this week’s explosion becoming another tragedy in the news, garnering likes on social media in lieu of necessary financial support, compelled her to make the speedy decision, before attention spans could wane.

“I wanted to do something as quickly as possible, to have the most impact,” said Ghebari.

Within 24 hours, Ghebari coordinated with her daughter in Victoria – who was busy organizing a fundraiser for medical aid to Beirut– to create a post on 17th Ave Thrift’s Instagram account. They advertised the initiative alongside a list of trusted NGOs accepting donations.

Ghebari said that her post has generated “a lot of interest” already. She expects her store located at 2631 – 17 Avenue SW to be busy this Saturday.

Regular community donor

Sue Ghebari stands in front of her store, 17th Ave Thrift in Calgary on Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. Ghebari is donating 100 per cent of all sales from her store Aug. 8 to relief efforts for the Beirut explosion. TSERING ASHA / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

While part of Ghebari’s swift action was due to her personal ties to Lebanon, the concept of donating an entire day’s sales was not a novel one.

Ghebari said she donates the lion’s share of profits to the many animal rescues she has partnered with in her store’s two-and-a-half-year existence. This, while taking care to ensure operating costs, including the wages of a staff of five, are always paid.

Just last week, 17th Ave Thrift donated over $1,700 in one day of sales to Pause4Change Rescue Foundation.

According to Kirstie Thrush, a director for Pause4Change, the donation exemplifies Ghebari’s commitment and generosity to her community.

“This woman has heart, she is just amazing,” said Thrush.

Ghebari said she has retained a strong connection to her homeland, even though she’s never gone back to visit.

When her family arrived 46 years ago, they discovered and nurtured a knack for business. They owned and operated a series of successful grocery stores throughout the city.

Her life in Calgary is markedly different from a childhood where sometimes the family didn’t have enough to eat.

But she remembers that childhood as a happy one, and the people of Lebanon as peaceful, and hospitable.

“My nine years growing up in Lebanon were probably the happiest years of my life,” said Ghebari.

“It was just a simple time, a happy time, and my connection to Lebanon will always be there.”

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