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Blessing Box a gift for giver and receiver

The 100 seniors living at River Ridge Retirement Residence in St. Albert would likely agree with what Dutch Delicious Bakery owner Siebe Koopman calls his giftable collection of chocolates, tea, instant soup, candies and tulips: the Blessing Box. This week, facility residents were each surprised with delivery of the aptly-named blessing box, simply because the Edmonton business owner and father of six said he wanted to bring a smile to people's faces at a difficult time.

Nicole Collyer, recreation director at River Ridge, said it was her neighbour Koopman's idea to do something special for the residents.

"A box of treats is wonderful, but what's more important is the extra boost this gives to everyone's morale, and for our staff to stay positive," said Collyer. "Community support is crucial to our River Ridge family. It's a gift for the residents, but also a gift of support for us."

For Koopman, who in the past has offered Dutch Delicious products for an Edmonton church's project called the Gift of Giving, this gesture felt like a natural move. (At a value of $25 per gift box, for 100 residents, it's not a small gesture, to be sure).

"With the lack of attention, visits and hugs for seniors, we figured the best response was to give them this blessing box, with a personal message inside," said Koopman. "I think of my grandparents in seniors homes in Holland during this crisis. I know we are all meant to be with others, and that's what triggered us to give this surprise to some of our isolated seniors here. We want to nourish our community."

It's not as though Koopman hasn't faced his own challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Dutch immigrant and wife Joni have owned the long time specialty bakery in Edmonton's Sherbrooke neighbourhood for about 12 years (Dutch Delicious Bakery has been in business for some 60 years). Koopman said he's stayed afloat and kept about a dozen full and part time staff on the payroll thanks to his frugal ways--that and customers (in Edmonton, and even as far as Sherwood Park and Leduc) who ordered Dutch-style breads, pastries and cakes online for curbside pickup or delivery throughout the COVID-19 shutdown.

"Our team didn't lose a penny in wages during the shutdown. It's amazing," added Koopman, who is re-opening the storefront, walk-in trade as part of Phase 1 of Alberta's economic relaunch. "We couldn't survive on fifty per cent of sales for much longer. So we're open 8-5, six days a week again, and we're grateful to be in this position."

"It's wonderful to hear the chatter of customers again. We've been busy, as soon as we opened, with people looking for fresh bread," he said. "There's extra cleaning involved now, and we can't have reusable bags. But otherwise it feels mostly like normal."

Dutch Delicious Bakery is best-known for its raisin buns (with currants), mocha cake squares and homemade sausage rolls (it's the hint of nutmeg that makes it special, said Koopman). Wife Joni runs a website with a blog and for online orders. The blessing boxes, which sell online for $27 and $53, are popular as gifts for teachers and school bus drivers, Koopman said.

"These are difficult times, because it's unknown when we'll be coming out of the crisis," added River Ridge executive director Kelsey Mettall. "We feel the family and community support through events like this. I know the residents will talk about these gift boxes for days to come. It's going to brighten everyone's spirits."