The Joseph Johns Story – Where It All Started
The man behind the creation of the Chatham SSVP store was Joseph Johns.
His vision, his passion to serve those in need,
not only inspired the creation of the Chatham store,
but throughout many communities within Kent County.
Joseph Johns joined the Society in the late 1950’s at the St. Ursula’s Parish in Chatham.
As a child he was exposed to charitable works from his parents who practiced giving charity.
Joseph along with three to five members of the parish would meet weekly after the
12 o’clock mass and were given names of families in distress by the pastor.
Every Sunday they would go in pairs to visit a family and help them with a
voucher for their needs of clothing, furniture and food.
It bothered Joseph that in a city and county of over 100,000 people,
that there was a weak effort to serve our fellow people as God requested us to do.
This inspired him to set his sights on developing a program to serve all the people in the community.
His vision was to have a store in every city and village.
Money would be a problem for the creation of the program.
Joseph was turned down by many of our members who said he would never succeed
in paying for a new building. However, he was a successful businessman.
Joseph paid off all his business and university education debts, praising God for his endeavors
Joseph attended SSVP conventions in the USA Stores program in St Louis and New Orleans. These visits helped him plan for the opening and operating of the SSVP stores. In 1957, he met with his Particular Council in the basement of Blessed Sacrament Church. There he was authorized to proceed with the opening of a new store in Chatham. The location was very important. A large lot was found on King Street East,in a predominantly poor neighborhood. The owner of the land was the Mayor of Chatham, who was also involved with the Society. After some tough negotiations the land was given to the Society for one dollar.
Joseph solicited the help from an architect to develop a blueprint for a new bright modern store. Estimates for the store were $20,000. Joseph approached a friend to provide brick layer trade people. He then found 15 people who would sign a note for $1,000 each so the bank would loan the store money to erect the new building. All the notes were paid off in four years.
A program to receive clothing and furniture was planned and executed. Once donations started to be received, clerks were hired and the rest of the staff was volunteers. A baling machine was built at Joseph’s factory at a cost of $3,000. At that time similar baling machines were sold for $12,000. (The original baling machine is still in use today.) Next an addition to the building was made after the initial banks loans were paid off. The addition was to accommodate the Baling machine and provide space for sorting and storage of clothing and furniture. At this time Drop Boxes were placed at churches within Kent County which generated large quantities of clothing.
After the initial opening of the Chatham Store, Joseph would review annually the needs for store expansion within Kent County. The first two expansions were in Wallaceburg and Dresden. All members worked hard to make them a success. The next move was to Blenheim and Tilbury. Each of the stores had a manager and volunteers. Wheatlley and Bothwell were next on his expansion list. Eventually the Wheatley store closed as the neighboring SSVP store in Leamington (part of the Essex County) opened, serving also the Wheatley community. His final expansion efforts led to the opening of the Glencoe and Strathroy stores. Joseph found himself travelling throughout Ontario promoting the
opening or expansion of additional SSVP Stores.
Joseph was also the creator of the SSVP Children’s Camp in Bothwell, which today accommodates over 700 children annually from SW Ontario.
Joseph gives credit to all the donors who contributed to the cause as it is in giving that it is as important as receiving in the eyes of the Lord.”
He thanked the citizens of the Chatham-Kent area for their support.