In 20 years, thrift shop ministry has moved mountains


August 26, 1994|By KATHY SUTPHIN

Faith and volunteer spirit shown by workers at St. James Thrift Shop for the past 20 years have moved mountains of usable clothing and household items to benefit people in need, here and abroad.

The shop, an outreach ministry of St. James Episcopal Church, is at 3 S. Main St. in Mount Airy. Shelves at the shop hold clothing for men, women and children, as well as household goods and baby items.

Furniture and other goods also attract bargain shoppers. It is open to the public from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Although the total number of items recycled through the thrift shop during its two decades of operation is unknown, recent tonnage reports are a clue to the volume of community donations handled by the all-volunteer staff.

Nearly 18,000 tons of clothing and household goods were distributed outside the thrift shop from December 1993 to May 1994, shop manager Ruth Webb estimated. These goods were distributed to Mount Airy NET, Frederick Union Mission, Way Station in Frederick, Nicaragua Relief and various hardship cases.

Items also were donated to the town's Flood Relief Effort to benefit Alexandria, Mo., and the Fall Festival Scarecrow project.

Although patrons are of all economic backgrounds, the Rev. Robert Herzog, rector of St. James Episcopal, said the shop serves as an important resource to the poor because they can buy a lot of clothing for a few dollars, then allocate their money to other needs. "It helps you get by," he said.

Parents come to the shop looking for infant clothes and baby equipment, as well as fashion bargains that will appeal to their older children.

"Many people can't afford to go on a spree to buy back-to-school clothing," Mr. Herzog said. "I've seen clothing come in that has never been worn."

Prices of thrift shop items range from 25 cents for socks or underwear to $5 for coats or suits. Fifty percent of the thrift shop income is set aside for charities such as the Episcopal Social Ministry of Baltimore, a United Way operation that includes Paul's Place.

Mr. Herzog said remaining dollars pay the rent, utilities, insurance, maintenance and cleaning costs.

"Our ministry is not to see how much money you can make, it's a ministry in the biblical context," said the pastor. "If you are blessed by the Lord, then you are intended to be a blessing."

Mr. Herzog said the church is grateful for the support the ministry receives from the Mount Airy community. "Most people use the thrift shop to give of themselves in a charitable way [by] giving things that are still valuable for reuse," he said.

"The biggest problem," according to Mr. Herzog, is when people give things "that are not worth repeating." The shop's core group of 10 volunteers is often faced with sorting through bags of donations to eliminate trash and soiled items.

Donations of good, clean, up-to-date clothing with working zippers are needed at the shop, as are clean household items that are in good working order. Donations of furniture should only be brought to the shop when it is open to the public and after calling the shop first at (301) 829-0314.

The shop does not accept motors, engines, car parts, tires, oil, antifreeze, paint, construction materials, windows, doors, appliances or stereos that do not work, and furniture that is broken, torn or soiled.

Mrs. Webb said she is assisted in the management of the thrift shop by Audrey Ogle. Like Mrs. Ogle, many shop volunteers do not attend St. James Episcopal.

"It helps the underprivileged. We give them things. We set them up in housekeeping. It's very rewarding to everybody," Mrs. Webb said. "There's people who tell us that they couldn't exist without us."

"Mini-miracles" at the shop often lift the morale of volunteers, said St. James Thrift Shop Board Chairman Margaret Neff.

She recalled when 60 cans of paint were left neatly stacked on the shop's outside loading dock. She remembered wondering, "What am I going to do with this?"

"[Then] a lady came in and saw it and was thrilled to death and wanted to buy all of it for her farm," Mrs. Neff said. "It was wonderful."

Volunteers who are able to give a few hours a week to the thrift shop ministry are always in demand. They are categorized as either sorters or sellers and work in pairs mornings, afternoons or evenings, Monday through Saturday.

Sorters unpack donations left in the outside storage boxes behind the shop, and sort the goods for use in the shop or repack them for other organizations.

Sellers open and close the shop, help customers and collect money. Both tackle the continuing, in-shop task of refolding clothes and straightening shelves.

"It is a wonderful opportunity for community service, especially for youths," Mr. Herzog said. "It's a good place to get a sense of the other community."

For more information about volunteering at the St. James Thrift Shop, call (301) 829-0325.

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