AP NEWS

Beaver Dam St. Vincent de Paul growth benefits community

May 1, 2019

Thrift stores continue to grow across the United States and that trend is certainly true at the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop at 125 Dodge Drive in Beaver Dam.

Recent additions include an expanded children’s area, a new service desk and west entry checkout and an expanded silent auction section.

Space was made available by moving the Dodge County Food Pantry into an adjacent office building. Walls were removed around Jan. 1, freeing about 1,200 square feet for thrift store expansion. Much of the construction and reorganization was completed by volunteers and staff – minimizing costs and saving money to support the St. Vincent de Paul mission of service to others.

“We’ve been able to expand the kids clothing by more than 300 percent,” said store manager Ben Nelson. “We had just one row of clothing and now we have four rows. What were the kids and toys aisles were converted into more space for women’s and men’s clothing. Now we’re able to get a lot more product out on the floor, which is what our clients and our shoppers want.”

Having kids’ items in a designated area also allows kids to play and read without obstructing other traffic.

“When I first came here the toys were in the middle of housewares,” Nelson said. “Our new arrangement works out much better.”

The service desk that was on the north side of the store is now filled with cases displaying art, antiques, collectibles, vinyl records and other items.

“We have at least three times as much merchandise put out for silent auction (four cases and a table as opposed to the original single case and a table),” said Nelson. “That allows us to separate the most valuable donations, so the treasures of our community are staying in the community. Local bidders set the price rather than a buyer on eBay or some other online auction site.”

Items offered for auction are picked from donated items by staff members, who are alerted to watch for unique, antique and collectible items as they arrive in the donation area.

“Our volunteers are on the lookout for special items and they put a starting bid on each item,” said Nelson. “They describe the item and maybe put a little research into it. They figure out a date or a maker, and go from there. New items are offered each month, with the auction wrapping up on the last day of the month.”

“It really has been a good money-maker for us,” said volunteer and auction organizer Tom Heffron. “It has worked out really well.”

“People enjoys coming to see what’s there, so it increases traffic. It also clearly shows that we get good stuff, which also encourages people to donate good things that will find a market here. It’s a local charity for a local mission, which is why it is so well supported.”

Two other cases offer things that are collectible for immediate sale, to satisfy those who prefer not to wait for the auction to end.

“We do both so there is balance,” said Nelson.

Being local is key to the charity’s success.

In the span of one month in 2018, one Beaver Dam apartment building was destroyed following an explosion and a second apartment building burned down claiming two lives. Residents from both buildings were displaced. St. Vincent de Paul Society helped with the costs of temporary food and shelter and provided items to replace possessions tenants had lost.

“One of the things we’ve been real intentional about is that many of the items we bring in support our ministry,” said Nelson. “So when I bring in deodorant and toothbrushes and toothpaste, when somebody has a fire, I can supply those things to them. We share them for free and that’s one way we can help the community.”

Heffron said, “People have accepted that this is the local charity, which is the reason we operate this store,” said Heffron. “With Ben’s management and the popularity of this store we’re showing that our mission is working for the people who really need it.”

Heffron is quick to point out that the store carries much more than donated items. A wide range of new items and merchandise has been added to fill the daily needs of living – such as new socks and underwear, new mattresses, a range of household items and cleaning products, and more.

Pricing is deliberately low, keeping both essential and non-essential items affordable while maximizing profits to support their mission.

Even with the new space, further expansion is still being considered.

“We are full right now,” said Nelson. “We are looking at a variety of options for further expansion at this location. As long as people are excited about recycling rather than buying new, and being creative with vintage items, we’ll continue to grow and expand.”

The charity is non-denominational and volunteers from other churches are involved in daily operations.

“The board is extremely supportive of us operating that way,” Heffron said. “We’re here for everyone, no matter what church they come from or from no church at all.”

“That’s what being a Christian charity means,” said Heffron.