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ON THE SCENE: Gifts that keep on giving

Wilmington thrift shop helps those neighbors who need it most

December 8, 2016
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

When a disaster hits, like Tropical Storm Irene or a family losing their home to a fire, the Riverside Thrift Shop in Wilmington provides free access to clothing, kitchen items, sheets and blankets, and basic furnishings to help the families get back on their feet.

For everybody else, the thrift shop provides access to a wide array of products rivaling the variety available at a Walmart.

The difference is that nearly everything is second-hand, and the prices are very modest. And while the prices are low, the quality is usually quite good. The thrift shop is open just two days a week, Wednesday and Saturday, and new donations come in at a rate that matches or exceeds what goes out. Items not sold are passed on to other agencies serving those in need, some on to Third World countries, and very little reaches the landfill.

Article Photos

Rev. Helen Beck
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

A consequence of the high turnover of product, there is always something new in the store; thus, if you don't find what you want, it may well be there within a week or two. Another benefit is income from the thrift shops supports the ministry of the Whiteface Community United Methodist Church, which has provided financial support to more than two dozen charities that range from the Ausable Valley Habitat for the Humanity and the Wilmington Ecumenical Food Pantry to Stop Domestic Violence (Essex County) and the Special Olympics.

The thrift shop was launched in July 2003 by Sandy Bowen.

"My inspiration came from my experience with cancer, and the people of Wilmington being so good to me," said Bowen. "I just wanted to give back. I had a chance to open the thrift shop, so that's what I did. The church owns the building, and the shop is managed by volunteers. We give quite a bit of money away to charities, plus we take care of the electricity and fuel for the church and this building. If a fire victim comes in and lets us know, we give them what they need for their house. What I get is the joy of knowing we are helping others, seeing their smiles, and hearing their thank yous. We get a lot of thank-you letters and cards."

People come to the store from all over. Some plan their vacations around visiting the store. The volunteers come from around the region served, and many have served for long stretches of time, some from the very beginning. Many of these volunteers are not members of the Methodist congregation, but they are here to help.

"Sandy encouraged several us to help start the store," said Connie Morrison. "We were looking for something that would benefit the community. We had been doing rummage sale kind of things that lasted a brief two days. Now not only are we providing home items for families at low cost and helping people in emergencies, but we are keeping things out of the landfill. The store supports our church, which could not contribute to the community in the way it does without the money we raise. Many people come here and say this is the best store they have ever seen. We take great pride in the store, and all the volunteers work very hard. We make people really happy. Besides all that, people who are having issues in their life feel comfortable sharing that with us. They will say, 'This is happening to me, and I'm having a bad time.' We'll put our arms around them, show that we understand and are sympathetic. I think this isn't always a kind world, and I'm glad this is a place where kindness can happen."

Nearly 25 people volunteer their time on a regular basis, and at least a dozen are on hand when the store is open.

"I do a little bit of everything," said Barbara Signorelli. "I work in the clothing section, sometimes I'm up in the Christmas loft, sometimes in receiving, sometimes at the cash register. We let volunteers choose what they want to do. I volunteer because I believe the thrift shop is a vital part of the community. It helps out those who are less fortunate and those who want a bargain. It's helping the church and all sorts of organizations."

"I take care of shoes, movies, DVDs, tape and cassettes," said Tom Van Benschoten of Jay. "I have been volunteering about eight years. I love dealing with the public. I owned the hardware store before this for a good 32 years. This gets me back into retailing again, except that I'm working with a lot of old stuff instead of new stuff. I get the satisfaction and the fun of working with people."

The another side of the coin is those who shop at the store, and there are many.

"I shop here often," said Carolyn Kiernan of Keene. "I like to get skates and ski boots. I have grandchildren who need clothes and want toys."

"I come probably once a month," said Tatyana Hofrichter. "I have two small children. I can afford to let my daughter buy whatever she wants, and then I can always bring the toys back the next week or in a month after she is done with them. Kids get sick of toys after a while, so this way the toy can go on to another child. Why not? I also come her to get work clothes for my husband and myself as well."

Then there are those who donate.

"You could say I am downsizing and so I am dropping off some stuff for the thrift shop," said Priscilla Couchman. "I just moved to Placid, and I am bringing over some items I hope people can use. I heard about the shop in the newspaper and figured they could use it."

Receiving her items was Pastor Helen Chrys Beck of the Methodist Church. "We are very grateful for these donations as they help us support our mission and it helps benefit many local charities," said Pastor Peck after passing on Couchman's contributions. "Plus it helps many local families stretch their incomes. Also, it helps us make the best use of our resources no matter what your income level. It also provides the volunteers a great sense of purpose and helps us interact with the community. It's become a real hub. It's a place where people can share resources, exchange local news, share their concerns, and develop friendships. The thrift shop has made a critical difference in the lives of many people."

The Riverside Thrift Shop, 1169 Haselton Road (junction of Haselton and state Route 86 directly behind the church), is open Wednesday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The phone number is 518-946-2922.



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