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This Vernon business owner makes sure firefighters, evacuees get special treats

Vernon’s Cobs Bread owner Heather Hilton is making sure evacuees and firefighters get some tasty bakery treats.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Cobs Bread Anderson Way
August 19, 2021 - 7:30 AM

This is Heather Hilton’s first wildfire season in Vernon but she didn’t hesitate to bake up a storm for firefighters and evacuees.

“Once the fires broke out, I made a plea to find out where I could donate to,” Hilton, who bought the Cobs Bread business last October with her husband Sean, told “I didn’t want to show up somewhere and be in the way or take someone off the job.”

The large B.C. Wildfire camp in Vernon has its own kitchen so Hilton joined up with Rider Ventures, a firefighting contractor. She’s donating about $200 worth of bakery treats to their workers every week.

While the contractor does provide food, she gives enough extra so the workers can take it and share it with coworkers in Merritt or Kamloops or wherever they’re dispatched.

“Cinnamon buns, scones, regular buns to make sandwiches, pizzas, ham and cheese croissants, lots of Danishes, chocolate croissants,” she listed. “Anything I figure is kind of a single-serve, easy to munch, treat.”

But, that wasn’t enough.

Next, she put out the word that anything firefighters and first responders bought in the store was on the house.

When the evacuations started, the same held true for them – including her brother who was evacuated from Parkers Cove on the west side of Okanagan Lake, near where the White Rock Lake fire destroyed dozens of homes on Monday.

READ MORE: UPDATE: Emergency officials now say 70 structures destroyed on west side of Okanagan Lake

“I know the evacuation centre gives them vouchers and the vouchers are fantastic for all the emergency stuff they need,” Hilton said. “I wanted to be able to help that much further.”

It’s become such a popular draw that the number of evacuees being helped has gone up this week, even as more people have been able to return home.

READ MORE: Hundreds more residents on the west side of Okanagan Lake allowed to return home

“A big portion of that is we do is make sure that, when evacuees come in, we tell them to make sure your neighbours know,” Hilton said. “Spread the word.”

She knows that some people are taking advantage of the freebies.

“I’m looking it as a teaching opportunity,” Hilton said. “I have a lot of really young staff – I know I’m a stepping stone for a lot of these young kids. My goal is to teach them how to be and how to act and how to learn as they go into adulthood.

“One of those lessons that we’ve chosen to have these guys learn is, yes, there are going to be people who take advantage. No, it’s not fair but, at this point, we’re always going to take the high road. We’re not asking evacuees to show us proof they’re evacuated. That’s OK. If somebody wants to take advantage of that, I’m not going to allow that to make me take it away from people who actually need it.”

It is costing her money, about $500 a week, but it’s come with an upside.

“I’ve had a lot of new customers that have come in since we posted it on Facebook that evacuees can come in at any point,” Hilton said. “It’s brought in extra customers that are saying they’re going to be customers of ours for life because we’re helping the community. Yes, it’s costing us money and we are a new business but we need to take on some of the responsibility and we need to be able to help our community where they need help and, right now, for us, it’s being able to help with a smile and a treat and a little bit of compassion.”

This attitude is not new to the Hiltons. In December they put on an extremely successful Santa’s Anonymous drive by giving treats to everyone who dropped off a toy.

It’s an outlook that carries on throughout the year.

“The biggest thing I believe in is being a part of the community and helping as many people as we can,” Hilton said. “Someone that comes in and had a rough day, we’ll give them a free treat or just make the customer service the way it should be and helping communities where we can.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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