By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON
The St. Vincent de Paul Society operates thrift stores all over the Tampa Bay area, all over Florida, all over the US and, in fact, all over the world! Basically, a St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store is a social enterprise that raises money to support the mission of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, which offers support to those in need.
Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are referred to as “Vincentians.” The Society traces its beginnings back to Vincent de Paul, a humble farmer and Catholic priest who organized charitable efforts to help those in need in France back in the 1600s. He was known as “the Apostle of Charity” and inspired the founding in Paris in 1833 of the Society, which bears his name and rapidly spread to the US and throughout the entire world. The Society started in the US in 1845 in St. Louis and now serves 4,400 communities across the US. Social justice remains the mission of the Society, a mission that is supported financially through such activities as thrift stores.
Since 1989, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP) has operated a thrift store in Ruskin. The large store takes in donations and sells a wide variety of clothes, household goods and furnishings, toys and other items in a clean, well appointed showroom, located in front of its warehouse at 1311 3rd St. NE on the road that runs parallel and east of US 41 in back of St. Anne’s Catholic Church. The director of the Ruskin store is Isabel Darcy. DeoraLynn Kettler is the manager. The SVdP Thrift Store is open Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 and Saturday from 8 to 4. Donation hours are from 9 to 3 Monday through Saturday.
One occasional patron says, “I love this store. I live close by so I try to pop in at least once a month. I always enjoy browsing and usually find something unique or useful at a good price.”
Asked what makes SVdP unique and different from other thrift stores/second hand stores, Darcy said, “The St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store is run by the Society of St Vincent de Paul, and all proceeds support the mission of the Society. Men and women who seek holiness through works of charity volunteer their time and efforts to the Society. These Vincentians help those who may be in need by lending support in many forms, including food, rent, clothing, housing, medicine, electricity or other needed payments. Vincentians visit the homes of families in need, lend emotional and spiritual support, then identify the most effective means of returning a family in need to stability and security. For example, a mother may ask for electricity to be paid, but upon visiting a home, a Vincentian may notice that the family’s three young children all sleep on the floor in a small room. St. Vincent de Paul would help support the mother in finding supportive housing options for a more safe and affordable home. Vincentians try to help as friends and follow the example of Christ’s service to all brothers and sisters. Although the Society is Catholic, there are no barriers nor requirements for support. The Vincentians are truly ecumenical and serve everyone regardless of creed or color. All people are ‘God’s people’ and receive 100% compassion and support.”
Darcy added that this thrift store also supports those in need by providing vouchers to the Society so that those it serves can redeem them for needed items. Families in need can redeem these vouchers at the thrift store to get clothing, beds, stoves, refrigerators, shoes, bedding, etc. These household items. which many take for granted and donate freely, are often received as long awaited luxuries by families who have struggled for so long.
The SVdP is always looking for volunteers to help in its mission and work. Anyone interested in volunteering fills out an application and interviews with the management at the thrift store in Ruskin. The volunteer will then be connected with an available time and activity that best fit his or her strengths, interests and availability.
Identifying some of the challenges of the thrift store business, Darcy commented that organizing and arranging the wide variety of clothing poses a major challenge for the store. The store carries all sizes, styles, and types of clothing, which can be difficult to keep in order on the showroom floor. In addition, the store’s location is slightly “off the beaten path,” but once people find it, they come back over and over again.
According to Darcy, there is a large level of contentment and satisfaction derived from working at the SVdP Thrift Store. “The greatest joy,” she said, “comes from knowing that we are helping those in need. Next is the joy among our workers, and the fun we all share. The fact that we give tangible assistance to those in need on a person-to-person basis gives joy to those who receive, as well as to those who do the giving. It is this personal involvement that makes the Society unique. No one is ever asked to make payment for the help received.”
Discussing the short term and long-term outlook for the South Shore area, Darcy had this to say. “In the short term, rapid development has led to rising costs of living, including the cost of rent. More and more seniors who worked all their life are seeing that their Social Security is not keeping up with the prices. More of them will seek support during crises, and if they do not get it, they will wind up out on the streets. More low income housing is desperately needed in the South Shore area. The pressure that rising costs put on low income families necessitates the efforts of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Some clients of the Society have to decide between paying rent and paying for cancer treatment. The community needs to work to support our neighbors who are facing such dire conditions. If the South Shore community opens its hearts and supports those in need, then this rising tide can raise all boats, without letting the elderly or those in crisis sink into poverty.”
Darcy not only urges South Shore residents to consider volunteering and donating items at the thrift store, but [she also] hopes previous and new customers will come by to enjoy a rejuvenated store. “We have a new manager at the SVdP Thrift Store here in Ruskin and a redesigned store,” she points out. “ This has brought new energy and life to the showroom floor. For example, the baby clothes are now on hangers and the parking lot has been fully repaved. Management improvements have led to lower prices all around, with a large rise in inventory quality. Weekly sales and specials lead to exciting new visibility for some really great hidden gems donated to the store by generous members of the community. Two brand new store signs are raising the visibility of the store for those looking to find great clothing and home goods that they can feel good about buying.”