Our Tonypandy store’s fantastic community champion Karen Thomas couldn’t believe her eyes when she walked into a community centre in the Rhondda Valley and saw 60 people wearing masks with her face on!
The volunteers who run Canolfan Pentre say Karen’s a real community hero, so decided to have a Karen Appreciation Day to say thanks for all her help. Karen volunteers at the centre’s senior citizens’ club each week and helped secure funding from the Asda Foundation to help transform the centre.
She said: "Once I got over the shock, I realised what a lovely gesture it was. They're such a great group who do so much for the local community and it's a pleasure to help them."
Karen nominated the centre for a surprise £10,000 Asda Foundation donation last Christmas, so centre manager Elizabeth Williams wanted to say thank you with a surprise of her own.
Elizabeth said: "Starting Canolfan Pentre three years ago was a big undertaking, and Karen started helping us about a month after we opened.
"She's a friend and I turn to her for advice and support. She's one of the most important parts of our team – she's phenomenal.
"She joins us every Wednesday, and also helps us on weekends, evenings, on her days off ... she's fantastic!"
Elizabeth arranged the surprise during Karen's regular visit helping a group of senior citizens who call themselves 'The Oldies' and visit every week for companionship, a chat over a sandwich and a game of bingo.
She said: "I had the masks made and told the group what we were planning, so they sat on them while Karen served teas, coffees and made sandwiches.
"We then went into a different room for a game of bingo, and all 60 of them put them on. I called Karen in and she just said "Oh my God, it's me!". She had absolutely no idea what we were planning. Everybody laughed so much."
The centre is a vital community hub and hosts everything from childrens' playgroups to cooking clubs.
Karen has worked closely with the community centre for more than two years after Elizabeth first asked if Asda could donate some prizes for a raffle. She now helps at the bingo club each week, and has organised in-store collections, as well as helping secure another grant from the Asda Foundation to fix the centre’s heating last year after burst pipes caused flood damage, leaving the building too cold to use.
Karen said the day in her honour was a total shock.
"I just couldn't believe it," she said. "I wasn't sure why they had called me into the room, then I saw all the masks and just thought, 'it's me, I'm looking at myself'!
"I did feel a bit embarrassed. All of the Asda community champions do a fantastic job in their local communities, not just me.
"This is such an important centre for the community – without it there’s a real risk of people becoming isolated as Pentre’s lost its post office, newsagent, banks and school in recent years. It makes me feel really proud to be able to help them."