Individually, they are active senior citizens; but, as a collective, the volunteers at Iola Senior Citizens, Inc. have made a huge impact on the community.
A group of eight volunteers met with The Register to discuss just how the thrift shop has grown into something that people can rely on, especially in the hardest of times.
“I think of it as a recycling center,” Joe Hess said. “It makes people’s money go a lot further.”
The store, which started around 35 years ago near the Iola square, had very meager beginnings. Now, the store brings in over $20,000 a year from sales — which is no small feat, considering the price of the items they sell. Shirts go for about 20 cents and jeans are only around a quarter.
The money received from sales goes to a specific charity at the end of the year, voted on by the volunteers. Some of the charities include the food pantry, Hope Unlimited, Crime Stoppers, local schools, Adopt-a-Child, St. Timothy’s backpack program, CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, and CURB, the Citizens Utility Relief Board, to name a few.
While the 14 to 16 volunteers involved with the thrift store do work hard, many of them don’t see it as a job by any means.
“What would we do otherwise,” CeCe Huston asked rhetorically.
All of the volunteers are retired, Huston said, with the youngest being 52. The ladies and gentlemen around the table tossed around some of the reasons they are as involved as they are.
“It’s rewarding to get to help others,” Lois Bradford chimed in.
“We’re our best customers really,” Lorene Butler admitted as the others laughed.
IT HELPS they realize the widespread need for inexpensive clothing.
What Joe Hess described as an “economic disparity” in Allen County has had an intense effect on some who have fallen on hard times. He said the thrift store gives them an opportunity to alleviate some of the high costs of living.
“There’s a lot of people in the community that don’t know about us, however,” Hess said.
But, that doesn’t mean the volunteers have any shortage of donations. Hess said they oftentimes have more clothing than they know what to do with.
“We get anything and everything,” Huston said.
It leaves them an opportunity to have free items for people in emergency situations.
“If people have a house fire, we let them have what they need,” Hess said.
The group said they once received five mice as a donation, via the pockets of some donated jeans. They were also graciously given a bowl of potato peelings by one donor, among other things.
“I won’t say what came in here one day,” Helen Heiman said.
Some people are a bit more fortunate with their discoveries as well — as Joe Hess’s wife, Jeanette, explained.
“I found a husband up here, he was a bargain,” Jeanette said. “I didn’t even have to pay for him.”
All of the volunteers realize the essential part they play for the store, and don’t take a minute for granted.
“It’s the result of a long history of slow, gradual growth,” Hess said. “We are just passing the torch.”
Things have come a long way since the store has been moved into the new building, which is generously provided by Allen County, and the group of seniors are nothing short of thankful for the opportunity they are given.
“You feel like you’re doing something useful,” Bradford said.
But, as Huston admitted, they receive their own benefits from their time spent as well.
“You might think of us as a social center too,” Huston said laughing.
“It gets us out of the house.”