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Cup of tea and a warm smile: The Breakaway Café celebrates tenth anniversary

Margie Pitts (left), Marius Langley, Margo Turner and Judy MacKenzie are four of the 20 people who have volunteered at The Breakaway Café in St. Martha’s Regional Hospital since it opened 10 years ago. Corey LeBlanc
Margie Pitts (left), Marius Langley, Margo Turner and Judy MacKenzie are four of the 20 people who have volunteered at The Breakaway Café in St. Martha’s Regional Hospital since it opened 10 years ago. Corey LeBlanc - Corey LeBlanc

The Breakaway Café continues to be a runaway success.    

The coffee shop nestled inside the main entrance of St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish is celebrating its 10th anniversary.    

Since its launch, the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital Auxiliary initiative has raised more than $385,000.    

“It has given us the opportunity to connect with many of the staff – strong supporters of the auxiliary – as well as the community-at-large, being served by ‘our hospital on the hill,’” long-time auxiliary member Judy MacKenzie said Monday afternoon (June 4) during a celebration of the milestone.    

Before chair Margie Pitts cut the first slice of a cake marking the occasion, MacKenzie provided a thumbnail sketch of the café’s beginnings.    

In 2006, after a needs’ assessment related to the use of space in the former school of nursing and current hospital, the plan provided an opportunity to expand The Gift Corner – an existing auxiliary fundraising vehicle – while adding space for a coffee shop.    

MacKenzie and Pitts, along with Margo Turner, Germaine Silver, Joan Corsten, Marius Langley and Tara Nicholson, formed a committee “to look into the possibility” of launching a café.   

“After much discussion amongst the members and research into other auxiliary coffee shops in Truro and Amherst, it was decided to create The Breakaway Café, on a volunteer basis, following a self-serve concept,” she said.    

"It was felt that the opportunity to serve and lend support to people in need of the services offered at St. Martha’s, as well as to those who supply those services, could come down to the proverbial ‘cup of tea’ and a warm smile.”    

She added the auxiliary thought operating the café would give the group the chance “to reach out to those needing a break away and nourishment.”    

MacKenzie noted the thought it would also enhance the auxiliary’s ability to fund equipment purchases, one of the key aspects of its mandate.    

“Ten years later, we are most appreciative of the opportunity given to us by the administration, enabling us ‘to serve as we would be served,’ and offering, with our prime location, a welcoming entry to St. Martha’s,” she said.    

Andrew Heighton, St. Martha’s facility manager, described the coffee shop as “more than a café for us,” in reflecting on how much the location means to staff.    

He credited the auxiliary for “helping keep alive” the mission of the Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Martha, which remains at the core for the hospital and its work.    

Nancy MacEachern, who became auxiliary president, just more than two weeks ago, offered congratulations on behalf of the group.    

“I am not going to say I was a nay-sayer, but I was skeptical,” she said of the café idea, noting she thought it would be difficult to find people to volunteer consistently.    

“I was very, very wrong,” MacEachern added.    

She credited everyone who has been involved with the “good planning and organization” that has made the café successful.    

“It has involved a lot of hard work on a daily basis,” MacEachern said.

‘Heartfelt thank you’                       

More than 50 volunteers have welcomed visitors to the café since opening day (June 2, 2008).    

Some have provided their time during the entire 10-year history, including; Sisca Bekkers, Nancy Booth, Sheryl Chapman, Ellen Cross, Donelda Hafey, Gill Hillyard, Florence Kennedy, Marius Langley, Pauline Liengme, Cathy MacDonald, Bernadette MacDougall, Judy MacKenzie, Sue O’Brien, Margie Pitts, Anne Purcell, Bernie Purcell, Karen Schuegraf, Ernst Schuegraf, Monica Teasdale, Margo Turner, Toni Rovers and Mary Veinot.      

The original café committee has evolved into a management team Pitts (chair), Turner (treasurer), Hillyard, O’Brien and MacKenzie.    

“We are greatly assisted by Judith Pink, as scheduler, and so grateful for the assistance of the housekeeping, laundry and maintenance [departments], along with cafeteria staff at St. Martha’s,” MacKenzie noted.    

When the café launched, hours were 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., on weekdays. By the fall, evening (6 to 8:30 p.m.) and weekend (2 to 6 p.m.) shifts were added.    

“They have increased to 12 hours a day – Monday to Friday – and 11 to 5 on weekends, along with many holidays,” MacKenzie said.    

And, she noted with a smile, coffee prices have never changed.    

The ‘cup of tea’ and warm smiles also remain.    

“The project has become a rewarding part of the auxiliary’s efforts, on so many levels, including a real ‘hands-on’ sense of lending a hand to those who might need one,” MacKenzie said. 

On behalf of the auxiliary, she offered a “heartfelt thank-you” to everyone who plays a role in the café’s success, including volunteers, customers and supporters.

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