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St. Vincent de Paul sees spike in service requests

'The need has grown huge,' says president

If your budget is tight this Christmas season, it may pay to shop at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

Besides used furniture, clothing, kitchen ware, household appliances, toys, books and DVDs, they also have a wide selection of Christmas decorations, including wreaths and five-foot artificial spruce trees.

Located at 29 Elizabeth Sq. in Elliot Lake, the Thrift Store has half price days, bag sales for $10, plus specials every week that vary according to surplus goods.

“Elliot Lake is so generous,” said society president David McEwen, who has been with the organization in various volunteer capacities for 15 years. The thrift store “accepts quality donated items from the community, such as household appliances, clothing, furniture, kitchen ware, bedding, and more.”

Money earned from the sale of used goods covers the store’s overhead expenses. “All the money stays in town, which is really important here.”

“Our need for helping has gone up,” said McEwen. “The need has grown huge.” He said there are many more people in need of their services, which goes beyond selling second-hand goods.

McEwen said they have a community outreach program with three workers that offer spiritual counselling. “They are not professional, but older people that have been through the ringer.”

He said the workers are people who have experienced the hardships that life has to offer and can counsel and offer advice to those going through difficult times.

The society also provides vouchers for groceries and necessities for those experiencing financial hardship. An individual that qualifies may get up to six vouchers per year, ranging from $40 to $100 each, depending on the size of their family.

“We also do things at Christmas, as well,” said McEwen. “We give out gift cards for Shoppers Drug Mart, Canadian Tire, Foodland and No Frills.”

McEwen asks that donations be brought to the deck at the back of the building between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., Tuesday to Saturday, when staff is on hand to bring it in and sort it. He said the second floor of the store is as big as the main floor and filled with items waiting to be put out for sale. Volunteers check over electrical goods, repair furniture, sort clothing, and ensure items are safe for re-use. Items such as couches and beds are “segregated and isolated for a time” to ensure they don’t come with unwanted pests. “We’ve never had issues here,” said McEwen.

Donated goods that aren’t suitable for sale in the thrift shop are sold to the Canadian Diabetes Association, who then sells it to Value Village. “It keeps it out of the landfill,” said McEwen.

McEwen said the thrift store is volunteer run, with just the two managers “on the payroll because they have to be here five days a week.”

They have between 20 and 25 volunteers, depending on schedules. “We have a very dedicated base,” said McEwen.

“We are always looking for volunteers,” he added. “Don’t be afraid to ask to be a volunteer.”

He said there are a variety of tasks that volunteers can do, such as sorting clothes, fixing electrical equipment, moving furniture, or repairing wooden furniture. He said if volunteers don’t want to be tied to just one job, “there’s always stuff to do around here. And if you want to do something different every day, you can do that, too!”

McEwen said volunteers do not have to be Catholic to serve at the thrift store. “Just the president (of the Society) and the outreach workers have to be Catholic.”

McEwen said the Society of St. Vincent de Paul is worldwide and is a Catholic organization but is not run by the church. They are “stand alone organizations,” said McEwen. He said each society decides what services they will provide to the community, which range from running food kitchens, to offering shelters to the homeless and/or operating thrift stores.