Volunteer shortage hurts thrift store
If not for the generosity and services provided by the Cancer Aid thrift store, Bill Winter might not have lived long enough to tell his friends and neighbors that the South Auburn Street storefront needs their help.
Winter, 80, a survivor of both prostate and testicular cancer, has been the recipient of thousands of dollars in prescriptions, walkers and related supplies, all courtesy of the second-hand merchandise sold at the store.
Now, with the store in danger of cutting back hours because of a dearth of able-bodied volunteers to stock its shelves, Winter said he fears cancer patients and lovers of careworn merchandise may one day find the doors locked.
“They’ve always been here to help me,” he said. “It would be a loss to anybody. It’s irreplaceable, really.”
Since 1970, when Vivian Huson opened the store with her husband, Walt, the store’s sales of second-hand toasters, dinner sets, men’s suits, women’s overcoats and story books for children has disbursed $3.5 million in aid to cancer patients.
The store brims with merchandise on three floors. Wheelchairs, walkers and other medical instruments are stuffed in a basement.
There’s no problem receiving merchandise, said Twylah Lemargie, the store’s manager. But they can’t find enough bodies to carry and display much of it, she said, and that may one day force the store to reduce its hours.
“We’ve got plenty of stuff, and sometimes we have to turn (donors) away,” said Lemargie, who leads the all-volunteer crew of 25 at the store. “As long as we can keep it going, we’ll do it, but none of us is getting any younger.”
As it is, the store can no longer accept donations on Mondays, because it don’t have enough help to bring stuff through the door. And the pool of volunteers, most of whom are retired, gets thinner every year, she said.
To work effectively, Lemargie needs six volunteers a day. Most times, she can only get half that many, and it’s difficult for some of them to make the commitment.
“I’m 71. I’m supposed to be retired,” said Lemargie, who has been at the store 10 years.
Fran Blanton, who screens the 210 customers receiving aid from the thrift store, said many of her patients are those whose insurance policies don’t cover all medical costs, and the aid they receive – a maximum of $5,000 each – is especially important.
If the merchandise isn’t moving, the patients risk going without vital medical services.
“We always have to remember the cause we’re working here for,” she said.
Winter, who lost a son to cancer and is now enjoying the fruits of the store’s success, said he hopes word of the center’s plight travels faster than any cancer cell.
“My greatest disappointment is that I can’t go down there and help.”
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