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A thriving thrift store

The volunteer-driven Avera thrift store in Marshall recently gained the distinction of donor of the year

July 28, 2012
Story, photo by Karin Elton , Marshall Independent


Helping the local hospital and enriching the community is what it's all about for thrift shop volunteers - and they have fun doing it.

The Avera Marshall Auxiliary Thrift Store serves the Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center - providing extra funds for equipment such as a ventilator for the Critical Care Unit or a glide scope for the emergency room - and it also aids community members who want to buy toys for their children or grandchildren or someone who needs to furnish their home at a low cost.

Article Photos

Volunteers Jerry Sletten, left, bagged goods and Cletus Lanners worked the register this week at the Avera Marshall Auxiliary Thrift Store.

"The volunteers get together and work for a cause," said Bob Van Leeuwe, the thrift store manager, adding that "we have more darn fun..."

There are 495 volunteers who donate time to the hospital, nursing home and to the hospital's foundation, Vickie Abel, the director of volunteer services, said.

About 30 to 35 volunteers come to the thrift shop every day.

The workers, mostly retired folks, divide up according to their interests and abilities. Some sort the donated goods, some check over and repair electrical appliances and others are behind the counter bagging and checking out.

Van Leeuwe has volunteered at the thrift store since 2007 and has had various positions of authority there before becoming manager last January. He puts in about 40 hours a week he figures, seven days a week, he said. "I really enjoy the work and all the people."

Van Leeuwe and other volunteers also enjoy working with residents from the Project Turnabout program who come in to do community service hours and are in the second phase of their rehabilitation program and ready to launch into the next phase.

The residents get positive interaction from working with the thrift store volunteers, said Marty Seifert, the Avera Marshall Foundation executive director.

"One resident said they are the moms I never had," Seifert said.

"They receive coupons for the hours they work and they can purchase jackets and anything else they might need," Abel said.

Abel said other groups donate time as well, including church groups.

"It's a quarter million dollar a year business that runs on volunteer labor," Abel said.

The Avera Marshall Foundation gave the thrift store an award for being its largest donor.

"The Auxiliary is one of the largest in the state per capita," Seifert said. "The volunteers give totally from the heart."

Van Leeuwe said business increases every year.

"People come here from all over - Montevideo, Wabasso, Canby," he said. "All nationalities."

Abel said there are two Spanish-speaking volunteers who are happy to help if any translation is needed.

Van Leeuwe said all kinds of things get donated to the store including valuable collectibles and antiques. One item they received is a Mattel My Size Barbie from 1998. Another interesting donation is one that they were going to throw away because it was personalized. Further inspection revealed the name to be Lt. William C. Christy, who was a member of the "Buffalo Soldiers," or African-American soldiers. Christy apparently was given a silver platter by the Ninth Calvary in September of 1935.

"A lot of unique things come in," Van Leeuwe said. "Some are brand new and still have their tags on."

"It's always a surprise," said David Javens, a thrift store volunteer. "It's like Christmas morning every day."

Javens said Mondays are a big day for drop-offs because people have had the weekend to go through their stuff, and they also drop off items that weren't sold at garage sales.

"After a city-wide garage sale it's like a circus here," he said.



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