Residents of Pouce Coupe, BC have some colourful characters brightening up their streets this year.

These friendly fire hydrants can be seen around Pouce Coupe, BC
(All photos courtesy of Dawson Creek Co-op)

A Co-operative Retailing System (CRS) program called Communities in Full Colour offers free paint from its Home Centres to non-profit organizations across western Canada.  Folks in Pouce Coupe took advantage of the program to turn the town’s fire hydrants into Minions, dalmatians, and gumball machines – an imaginative way to brighten main street and highlight the town’s vibrancy.

A short drive up Highway 2 from Pouce Coupe is Dawson Creek, which has one of the program’s most active Co-op Home Centres. With a population of around 13,000, Dawson Creek is a hub for surrounding rural areas, and the Co-op has actively reached out to local organizations and those in surrounding towns (like Pouce Coupe) to see if they can help.

Since the program started in 2016, the Dawson Creek Co-op Home Centre has donated to projects such as  painting  outdoor ice rinks, drag racing strips, soccer fields, and Relay for Life courses. The local Co-op has freshened up a motorcycle and a ski hill clubhouse, while also brightening the walls of the Nawican Youth Friendship Centre, Bonanza Society heritage buildings, a women’s shelter, and the SPCA. In all these ways, the simple gesture of providing a can of paint is spurring on revitalization and harnessing the ingenuity of community leaders.

Pouce Coupe outdoor rink

In this largely agricultural community, Co-op employees sometimes go a step further – they don’t just donate the paint, they head out with brushes and pitch in to get the painting done. For the fire hydrant project, Co-op employees have shown up on their days off to create these whimsical pieces.

“It really makes [people] realize how much the Co-op is getting out there and helping, especially if you can donate some of your time as well as the paint and get involved in the community,” said Karyn Holland from the Dawson Creek Home Centre’s paint department. “It really makes people realize that we’re not a big corporate entity where all the money goes to distant shareholders — no, we’re all locally owned, the people that work here live here, and we reinvest in our community.”

Related: How Co-ops Give Back

The program really taps into people’s ingenuity. At a local Watershed Society summer camp, kids learn about the importance of caring for local waterways. As a camp project they painted life-sized fish in bright colours to decorate bridges and promote the importance of healthy watersheds. The community of South Peace’s library repurposed old newspaper vending boxes by painting them and putting them around town full of books people can borrow and return. Each of these projects benefited from the Co-op’s Communities in Full Colour program.

Watershed Society summer camp

Providing paint may seem like a small gesture, but the program has a big impact.

“Being non-profits, they’re on budget shoestrings,” said Holland. “Whether it’s $100 worth of paint, or $7,000 worth of paint, I think it makes a big difference.”

As a brand — especially in rural areas — Co-op is well known for selling home building supplies across western Canada.  Cody Smith, Federated Co-operatives Limited’s Director of Home and Building Solutions, said the idea emerged a few years ago to support local communities by giving away its “Imagine” brand of paint to non-profit organizations who could use it.

A mural at the Nawican Youth Friendship Centre

“We wanted to find a way to brighten people’s lives, and what better way to brighten people’s lives than giving paint as a donation?” Smith said.

Since starting the program in 2016, Co-op has contributed paint to over 700 projects across the western provinces, from a heritage barn in Pincher Creek, Alberta, to a daycare centre in Moosomin Saskatchewan, to a community playground in Dauphin, Manitoba.

Related: How co-ops measure up in charitable giving

Care for local communities and revitalization are at the heart of these projects. In fact, some of the program’s bigger projects include donating paint to organizations in Fort McMurray after the city was devastated by a forest fire in 2016. In Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, Co-op not only helped paint a new women’s shelter through the Communities in Full Colour program, it supplied building materials as well. The ingenuity and heart behind these efforts is a great example of how western Canadians come together, and what better way to highlight this community effort than free paint provided by a co-operative.

South Peace library project

“Many of the local organizations and communities, charity groups, they’re under pressure for funding,” said Smith. “Getting the funds from traditional methods is not the same as maybe it used to be … a lot of organizations are under pressure. Not that paint is a huge cost in the big scheme of things, but, whatever you paint — your building or your room — it has quite an impression.”

Sometimes all it takes to make a space feel new again is a little paint, and Co-ops across western Canada through the Communities in Full Colour program are helping do just that.