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Orillia business owner finds unique ways to support community

Derek Kerwin's kindness and generosity is proof 'the community cares about' its vulnerable citizens, says Lighthouse official
derek kerwin and ayrica rauws be kind
Derek Kerwin, the owner of Orillia's Men in Kilts, and his wife, Ayrica Rauws have found numerous ways to support the community during the pandemic - including a food drive for the Orillia Lighthouse.

Editor's Note: This is the first of a series of 10 weekly articles, that will appear each Thursday, as part of the Be Kind campaign, an initiative spearheaded by Orillia's Emergency Management Committee.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a daunting challenge for local business people, but many chose to find new ways to be kind and to spread joy even when times were tough.

Derek Kerwin, owner of Orillia’s Men in Kilts, and his wife, Ayrica Rauws, chose to take the time to give back to their community.

When the provincial government shut down their business, Kerwin looked for a way to help seniors, the immunologically compromised, local homeless organizations and children.

“Obviously, we didn’t know how long we’d be shut down for and I needed, for myself, to make my company relevant, even if we weren’t doing windows,” he said.

Kerwin came across an ad by an older lady who needed help getting groceries and this inspired him and Rauws to start a grocery service in Orillia helping the elderly with their food.

“Against the best wishes of my franchise, I did it anyway and we got a lot of traction,” he said. “My posts must have received over 200,000 likes, which got picked up by the (other Men in Kilts) franchises in Canada and the other franchises started helping as well. In two months’ time, all of our franchises ended up helping over 200,000 people with medication and food deliveries.”

Kerwin didn’t stop there.

“I noticed that the parking lots when I would go out were full of (discarded) masks. My family has worked in health care for many years and I understand hazardous materials.”

So, Kerwin went out after work to the parking lots of grocery stores and would pick up discarded masks. The grocery stores would often give him gift cards which he would then give back to his employees.

Kerwin also wanted to help the homeless during the winter, so he teamed up with Orillia restaurant Ciao Chow Ciao for a fundraiser.

“For our very first food drive, we ended up raising 590 pounds of food, $500 and tonnes of hygiene products for the Orillia Lighthouse.”

Lynn Thomas, Development and Communications Manager for the Orillia Lighthouse, said Kerwin and Men in Kilts have supported the organization for a long time in many capacities.

“They and Ciao Chow Ciao did really nice work there for that (weekend) fundraiser,” Thomas said. "(Kerwin) has a heart for what we do and it was a nice way for them to help and give back. We’re always happy to partner with them.”

The support from people like Kerwin is a big deal, Thomas said.

“A lot of times, it can feel pretty overwhelming — the amount of need in the community. It’s always a boost for our staff, our volunteers, our board members, but in particular our participants because they see that the community cares about them," she told OrilliaMatters.

Helping the homeless and local residents still wasn't enough for Kerwin. So, when he heard that parents in his old West Ridge neighbourhood were concerned their children wouldn’t have an Easter that year, he called Mayor Steve Clarke and asked permission to use his firetruck to create a small parade for them.

“I dressed the truck up like a bunny and just went around saying Happy Easter to everybody and wished everybody a fun time,” he said. “People gathered on their driveways and took little videos. It was really fun.”

Instead of believing a person should be the extension of a business, Kerwin believes his business should be an extension of himself.

“I’m a pretty caring, giving person and I use my business to extend my services as much as I can. You’ve got to be a part of a giving circle," he said.

Do you know of an act of kindness or generosity that should be shared with the community? If so, please email your idea and contact information to dave@orilliamatters.com.