May 2010

BARGAINS AND BENEFITS - Area Thrift Stores Come To The Aid Of Local Charities

Author: Teresa Fitzgibbons | Photographer: Photography By Anne

When Karen Matthews’ father died, she faced a number of important decisions. Among them, what to do with the significant inheritance he left her. Should she travel? Indulge in shopping and spa sprees? Fortunately, for thousands of cancer patients and their families here in the Lowcountry, she made a different decision. She decided to open a thrift store and donate all profits to those suffering from the deadly disease.

“I saw what cancer does to someone,” said the owner of Off Island Thrift-Cancer Awareness Foundation, a 501 © 3 organization with two locations in Bluffton. “They become so frail; they can’t work. Things like keeping the lights on can become a priority.”

In tough economic times like these, charities are often the hardest hit. Organizations that rely on people’s generosity and expendable income see a frightening drop in their bottom lines. This is especially true of smaller, local charities—the ones most likely to send aid directly to those in need. It’s a terrible Catch 22, because this happens as they see the number of people in need of their assistance rise accordingly.

Even if you’ve had to pull your purse strings tighter, there’s still a lot you can do locally to help these organizations and the people they serve by donating to and patronizing local thrift stores.

“This area is getting to be known for its thrift stores. People stop here while on vacation. Others come just for the thrifting,” said Bobbi Helton, manager of The Litter Box. “They’ll comment upon what high quality shops we have compared to what they have in their communities.”

People are always getting rid of things, and in wealthier communities like Hilton Head Island, some people are getting rid of some pretty nice things. Area thrift stores regularly see designer label clothes and accessories, antique furnishings, and even a 4- foot luxury Coach bus come in as donations. Gently used often means rarely or never used items, especially things that come in from second
homes or investment properties.

“We’re more like a department store of thrift,” said Matthews. Unlike many areas, local thrift stores tend to be well-organized, with items sorted by categories, and plenty of volunteers that work hard to keep it that way. Volunteers from St. Francis Thrift Store and Church Mouse at St. Luke’s have been known to take home clothing to lightly mend, polish silver, and even recondition computers.

Many people have the misconception that when they donate items to a thrift shop they are only helping the shopper who is looking to, or needs to, buy things at rock-bottom prices. Local thrift shops are aligned with dozens of local charities to which they make gifts in kind. By helping a thrift store, more often than not you are also donating indirectly to a charity.

“My passion is cancer patients,” said Matthews. Her shops routinely help over a dozen people undergoing chemotherapy each month. But she also aids the Guardian Angels’ Christmas Wish program. If area schools contact her about children living in poverty, she will supply them with basic needs.

“Our shop supports Hospice Care of the Lowcountry, the only not-for-profit hospice provider in the area,” said Ron Naumann, board president of Hospice Community Thrift on Matthews Drive. They also provide gifts in kind to several local organizations and help families who’ve lost things in fires or other disasters.

Hilton Head Island Humane Association’s Litter Box Thrift is the organization’s largest fund raiser. All profits go to providing food, shelter, and medical care. “So many of the animals that come in are sick,’ said Helton. “Thanks to the generosity of the island, there’s no animal left behind.”

Other thrift stores reach out to numerous organizations. St. Francis Thrift donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to local charities each year. St. Francis Thrift Shop directly aids St. Francis Catholic School and Mustard Seed in Jamaica as well as the locals. When they get items they can’t use, they send them to Savannah’s City Mission so very little is actually thrown away. St. Luke’s Church Mouse also aids Savannah City Mission with leftovers. The list of organizations that received aid from them is impressive and includes the Elizabeth Graves Memorial, Second Helpings, Special Olympics, PEP, NAMI, and many others.

The typical thrift shopper is not who you’d expect it to be, stresses Hal Wieland, manager of St. Francis Thrift Shop. “We see the whole infrastructure of society in here. I think it’s the thrill of the hunt that draws them here,” he said. “Some people come in three times a week just to look. You never know what you will find.”

One thing each store needs is additional help. While hundreds of people in the area already volunteer, more are always needed, especially those who can move furniture and heavy items as each store will also do pick-ups and deliveries.

By either shopping at an area thrift store or donating your gently used treasures or your time, you’re also reaching out to people and organizations in need and making a positive difference in someone’s life.



6A Southwood Park
Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday and Saturday
(843) 689-6563

19-D Dunagan’s Alley
Open 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday and Friday; 3-7 p.m. on Thursday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday and Saturday
(843) 785-2322

46 Old Wild Horse Road
Open 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday – Saturday
(843) 842-MEOW

4375 Bluffton Pkwy and 18 Plantation Park Dr.
Open 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
(843) 815-7283

546 William Hilton Pkwy
Open 1-4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday; 9:15 a.m.-12:15 p.m. Saturday
(843) 342-2469

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