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St. Vincent de Paul

At Christmastime people take more notice that St. Vincent de Paul is right in the middle of most if not all of the Christmas giveaways… but many don’t realize that the organization helps Hancock County residents year round with everything from shoes for kids, to roof leaks and utility bills.

“We pay a lot of medications, a lot of utility bills… We do gas for the home, electric, water, anything that’s a basic need… It’s pretty much anything that makes life better for the families that we’re helping, said Beth Payne, the store manager for the Lewisport St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, the sales from which fund the charity.

“We get asked for different things every day that we’ve never been asked for before,” she said. “If someone comes in and (has) a need and they have something that they need, it shows up or we go get it.
“I mean we’ve bought water heaters, we had one family who had six kids in the household. They couldn’t afford to go to the Laundromat, well we found a used washer and dryer, we got that for them,” she said.

If somebody calls us and say they need a load of firewood, if they’re in our income bracket then we find a load of firewood.”
That income bracket is just the government provided poverty level, and the organization helps anyone that’s at or below it.

The store is a Catholic charity, although Payne said it’s not tied to the church directly and is its own entity, with thrift stores around the world and a St. Vincent de Paul Society that takes that money to help the needy.  In Hancock County that comes in the form of helping those who apply for help as well as improving the lives of residents through things like delivering bananas to The Oaks once a week.

Sometimes St. Vincent can help someone by just paying for something and other times by giving them something that’s in the store, but Payne said it’s sometimes interesting to see how things work out to help people with the very things they need at just the right time.

“The amazing thing is, like a month ago somebody called and their stove had just gone out,” she said. “They called us. We didn’t have one that day, but the next day one showed up.”
“We appreciate Hancock County so much because they take care of us,” she said.

“And the school system, the resource ladies there, they’re amazing to work with,” she said. “They help us out a lot as far as I can call and say OK this one has three kids in the family and one came in the store with them today and their shoes look terrible. Can you look at the other ones and tell us if they need shoes? And they also call us when they need something. If we can help, we try.”

Despite the fact that St. Vincent helps people at or below the poverty level, Payne said that doesn’t mean that it’s people who don’t or won’t work, but it’s often seniors who just never made a very good income or who just don’t have enough to live on in retirement.

“A lot of our seniors have worked their whole life but they worked low income jobs, they don’t have a retirement on that so they have to accept whatever social security is,” she said. “So if you worked a low income job your social security is probably $700 or $800 a month. That’s hard to live on, especially with where our electric bills are at.”

People who need help must go to the store on Wednesdays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and prove their income, provide a photo ID and show proof of a need, but they don’t just walk out with money because every decision to help someone goes through the members of the local society, who approve or reject requests.

The beginning point for all of the help is the store, which relies on donated items to resell, and the proceeds fund the charity’s activities. Although they’re known for selling clothes and furniture, they’ll take any donations that have value.  “We take just about anything,” Payne said.
There are exceptions, like they no longer take used mattresses or tube TVs, the latter of which actually cost the charity money.
“We’ll take a flat screen, that’s fine, but the tube TVs, we have to recycle them. Well they cost us $25 a piece to recycle them,” she said.

Also, they don’t take anything that’s alive.
“We have had quite a few people, they’ll bring in a hamster cage and the hamster will still be in it, and we’re like we can’t do that, we don’t have the license to sell pets,” she said.
COVID-19 has changed some of the processes for donating and selling. The store no longer accepts after-hours donations, and all donations during business hours have to go in through the back door to avoid carrying them through the store.

And all donations have to sit in the back room for a week before they’re processed and put out for sale.
“All hard surface things like mirrors and dishes and stuff like that get wiped down with Clorox wipes all year,” she said. “Even before the virus we were doing that.”

Clothes are donated in all states of condition and cleanliness, but the store employees and volunteers ensure that they put out stuff that’s clean and presentable.
“We go through the clothes and make sure they’re clean,” she said. “As far as if coats come in and they’re a nice coat or bedding comes in that’s nice I take it home and wash it and I bring it back.”
Ideally those donating clothes would wash them before they bring them in, she said, because she can tell if they’re not clean.
“If you put something on for three minutes and take it off and throw it in that box, I don’t care who you are, you can still tell,” she said.

But even clothes that are worn out or torn have some value to the store.
“We sell that for rags and it makes money to where not only can we help people back here with that money but a lot of times they’ll launder the good stuff that we can’t use that’s like really outdated clothes and they’ll eventually get shipped overseas,” she said. “We try really hard not to throw anything in the trash.”

Unlike some thrift stores, Payne said her St. Vincent de Paul store doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to squeeze top dollar out of individual items, because she said she’d rather allow people to get good deals while still making money.

“If we can get two bucks out of it, that two bucks adds up,” she said. “My clothes prices have not changed in 19 years. Our shoe prices have been $2… As long as we make enough money to help the needy we’re not going to raise our prices.”

By Dave Taylor

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