ALPENA — Don’t need it? Give it to a thrift store, say those who help Alpena-area people in need.
Sunshine and inching-upward temperatures often encourage residents to shake out the cobwebs and box up no-longer-needed household items and clothing.
Those items can help people struggling financially take care of their basic needs and get back on their feet, said Amanda Bergeron, food and weatherization coordinator for Northeast Michigan Community Service Agency.
While NEMCSA works directly with people facing financial need, homelessness, or other kinds of hardship, the agency lacks the storage space or manpower to take in most donations.
Those hoping to help others through their excess cookware, unused bedding, and too-small clothing can do so most effectively by giving such items to local thrift stores, Bergeron said.
Some items donated to stores go directly via voucher programs to people who may need them to jump-start a new life, such as after fleeing a domestic violence situation or moving into a home after experiencing homelessness.
Thrift stores’ low-priced items allow residents to save money while keeping usable items out of landfills.
And thrift store profits fund programs that help residents keep their lights on, buy medicine, feed their kids, and avoid eviction.
Residents hoping to offer an item directly to someone in need – and, Bergeron said, in Northeast Michigan, “rest assured, there are people in need” – can do so when NEMCSA or other agencies hold drives requesting specific items, such as blanket or coat drives late in the year.
The rest of the year, she said, direct-to-store donations are a donor’s best bet.
In 2021, store profits from the St. Vincent de Paul store in Alpena provided $104,500 in emergency financial help for 745 people in the Alpena area and helped feed more than 6,000 people, according to store manager Sheri Allen.
Many people think only low-income people should shop at thrift stores – an incorrect assumption, Allen said.
“There’s all walks of life that shop through here,” she said. “And they’re happy to, because they know it’s going to a good cause.”
Spring cleaning often means huge piles of donations at thrift stores, said Connie Miller, store manager at the Alpena Salvation Army thrift store.
Last year, the store generated $72,000 in profit that helped provide youth programs and emergency funds for local residents.
Sorting the donations can be a monumental task, made especially challenging with a recent shortage of volunteers, Miller said.
She and her team of employees and volunteers are happy to do the work to help the community, though, she said.
“It does help people. I really do believe that,” Miller said. “It’s a good feeling.”
Alpena’s several other thrift stores, including the Alpena Goodwill store, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and the Foster Closet of Michigan, also turn donations into help.
Occasionally, workers at the Sunrise Mission homeless shelter in Alpena can give donated housewares or furniture directly to guests to use during their stay or take with them when they leave, said Barbara Mathern, executive director of the mission.
A phone call before such donations helps ensure the mission needs the items or has room to store them, she said, although the mission always welcomes donations of un-expired food, cleaning supplies, garbage bags, diapers, and toiletries.
Meanwhile, thrift stores often connect people in need with the donated items that can help to get their lives back on track, said Bergeron, of NEMCSA.
A voucher that allows a mom to take home a kitchen table, for example, gives that mom a place to feed her family and a place for her kids to do their homework, Bergeron said.
With such worries removed, the mom can shift her focus to taking a step forward — perhaps by filling out a job application on that donated table, Bergeron said.
“It’s the ripple effect,” she said. “It’s the ripple effect of self-sufficiency, and it’s the ripple effect of kindness.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693 or [email protected]news.com. Follow her on Twitter @jriddleX.