At the heart of Deroche, a tiny unincorporated community nestled between two Indigenous nations, sits the Deroche General Store.
The store and its owners, Tracy and Ben Driessen, are not only staples of the community, but many of the programs at Deroche Elementary would not be possible without their help, according to Principal Michael Abercrombie.
“I’ve come out to this community having taught in the city and I just can’t believe a couple, through their store, can have such an impact on a school and a community,” Abercrombie said. “In my 30 years in teaching, I’ve never seen that before.”
The Driessen’s, directly through their store, and indirectly through a community-service group called the Sasquatch Lions, have been the rock behind the school’s food programs; major sponsors of Christmas, sporting and specialty programs; provide $5 gift certificates to students upon passing reading levels; and donate a dozen loaves of bread every week.
Abercrombie said they’ve been a largely silent, helping hand for close to a decade.
Deroche Elementary is the Mission School District’s smallest school with 85 students, 65 per cent of whom are Indigenous as it sits between lands of the Leq’a:mel and Scowlitz First Nations.
Abercrombie said the school is not well funded because of the small populations it serves. The school, the general store, a local gas station, several trailer parks and a mechanic shop make up most of this “typical rural town,” according to Abercrombie.
“If you blink when you enter the town, when you open your eyes you’ll be through it,” he said. “The school constantly benefits from the funding of programs.”
The school has reinvented itself in recent years to make itself more attractive for the community, teachers and students, said Abercrombie, who started there in 2016. They have developed an outdoors program, a salmon enhancement program – bringing the salmon population back to the local playground – and a kayak program is being planned.
But the Driessen’s have been the staple holding the school’s essential programs together for years, Abercrombie said.
“They hung with us in the lean years, and as we’ve gone further, they’ve invested more money through the Lions Club,” he said. “I think they really see the potential of it, in terms of affecting the community.
“They are a family that is … investing back into the community.”
The Driessen’s are a huge weight behind the school’s food program. Abercrombie said their donations help the school’s weekly food hampers for families who are struggling, and the breakfast program which serves each of their 85 students.
“We feel we need to serve breakfast every morning,” Abercrombie said. “You can’t be challenging families to be more committed to education when they’re struggling to make ends meet.
“You can’t move ahead if you don’t have you’re flank covered.”
In order to encourage families to read to their students, the Driessen’s are involved with reading program with the school. If students read 21 days over a month, a $5 coupon for the general store is provided to the students through the parent advisory council.
All of the Driessen’s initiatives with the school are done quietly, Abercrombie said.
“I get that quiet cheque for Sports Day or Christmas events,” he said. “I’ll walk into the store and all of a sudden see they have been collecting food for Christmas hampers without even being asked.”
On top of everything, the Deroche General Store is also a major employer for the community. The five-aisle store employs around 25 people, both local teenagers and moms, Abercrombie said.
“I know this young family, they’re trying to stay together and they need some money. And there is the mom working at the Deroche General Store.”