This is a guest post by Jane Knuth.
People ask me if volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul store is depressing, and I honestly tell them that it is not. There is a joy in this work that defies the reality of the impoverished neighborhood that leans so heavily against the walls of our building. And our customers bring that joy through the door with them when they walk in.
Leonard strides into the St. Vincent de Paul store with a hearty greeting. “What you have that’s new?” he asks. Sometimes he buys electronics which he dismantles for parts, and he usually has a story to tell us about his grandson’s latest athletic success. Leonard’s wife checks out the clothing racks but keeps one eye on her husband’s expenditures. Leonard bought an organ from us once, so she has good reason to stay alert.
Marissa is shy and pretty, and has an excellent eye for furniture. She knows to open dresser drawers to check for dove-tails, and she won’t put down cash for anything that wobbles.
There is a retired truck driver who always has a pleasant word to say and enjoys browsing as much as buying. His health isn’t the best and we are quick to notice if he is under the weather. He appreciates our concern and the time spent in the store seems to be a happy distraction from his troubles.
This week Lola is outfitted in furry boots and Nordic patterned tights, with a knee-length, crocheted vest belted over a cowl-neck wool dress. I say to her, “You look fabulous, dah’ling. Did you buy it all here?”
She looks sideways and grins. “Where else? But it didn’t look anything like it does now. The vest was a tablecloth which I re-invented; the dress was five times too big but that wasn’t hard to fix; and the fur on these boots I salvaged from a remnant.”
The hatrack in the store turns over merchandise as fast as hamburgers at McDonald’s. One lady in particular is a big fan. I have never seen her without an adorable confection on her head. One day I point out the new vintage items adorning the rack and she practically floats off the floor with happiness. “Where do you keep all the hats you buy?” I ask her.
She flicks a wrist. “Oh, I don’t keep them, honey. If ever some lady at church admires a hat on my head, I give it to her. I’ve even been known to hold a ‘hat sale day’ on occasion. The things I buy here spread a lot of joy to my neighbors.”
Jane Knuth is the author of Thrift Store Saints: Meeting Jesus 25¢ at a Time and Thrift Store Graces: Finding God’s Gifts in the Midst of the Mess. She has been volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for the last 17 years.