City thrift stores booming with New Year donations

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 5, 2004

Resident director Earnie Hall sorts through donations at Keystone Ministries Thrift Store.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[1/5/04]Leaders of Vicksburg’s three thrift-store operations said people have been typically generous this year in making donations around New Year’s Day.

Even the newest, Keystone Ministries at 2320 Washington St., has grown rapidly since its founding in 2001. All are ministry-based. The veterans are River City Rescue Mission, 3705 Washington St., and the Salvation Army, 530 Mission 66.

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“This has been a remarkable year,” said Earnie Hall, Keystone’s resident director. “People have really come out trying to help. I don’t have room for it it’s overflowing.”

State and federal income taxes allow deductions for clothing and other items given to charity, and Hall said donations were especially heavy the last week of 2003. Most items are placed on display in the store, but overflow is stored across Speed Street in the former Mississippi Hardware building, 2400 Washington St. Keystone acquired that larger building in late 2001 and plans to continue work toward renovating it this year. It is to house a larger thrift store, with additional display space for appliances and furniture, as well as space for other Keystone activities, including a Gospel Caf.

“This community here on this corner has accepted this store as part of it,” Hall said of residents of Speed, Oak and Pearl streets. “They provide for it, provide for each other. We just hope to be good stewards.”

Keystone, co-founded by Warren County Jail chaplain James Hartley, is designed to help those who’ve served time back into freedom. It has a residential program for men and plans to expand that program, add a women’s residential facility and child-care center and begin other related projects.

A few blocks south, at River City Rescue Mission, thrift-store manager Gregory Dart said program workers have been sorting donated items as they come in. He said many customers come in regularly to check for new arrivals, and articles of clothing that do not sell are continually being shipped out and replaced.

River City is already in a larger facility. “Appliances, couches, chairs and beds generally move pretty fast,” said mission director Gene Johnston.

River City is a short-term residential rehabilitation facility. The 25 to 30 men in the program are required to attend chapel twice daily and help staff the store, among other responsibilities. In return, they get three meals a day in the dining hall.

From their locations in the South Washington Street area, the Keystone and RCRM stores “work hand-in-hand,” Hall said. “We recommend for each other,” he said. “If I don’t have it, they might.”

North of Clay Street at the Salvation Army, the thrift store has been “swamped by donations,” said Capt. Joe Mur, who with his wife, Joann, are in their first year as Vicksburg co-captains of the local chapter of the national organization.

“We’ve had people lined up two and three vehicles deep in front of our store, which is also our donation center,” Mur said.

Clothing is the Salvation Army’s biggest seller, he said.

“I want it priced so somebody can come in with $10 and walk out with everything they need, from shoes on up, to maybe go out and look for a job or whatever they might need,” Mur said. “Of course, the children’s stuff is even cheaper.”

The store also sells furniture and working appliances, Mur added.

“Shoppers are usually looking for furniture,” he said. “We’re usually short on furniture.”

One common misconception is that the Salvation Army has trained staff available to repair donated items before offering them for resale, Mur said.

“The most we can really do is maybe wipe something down and get it ready for sale,” he said.

A major part of the Salvation Army’s work in Vicksburg is holding church services on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Mur, who is also a minister, said he conducts those services.

“It’s just a positive environment for people to be in, with adult fellowship and recreation, and just to supply a social outlet for people that really wouldn’t have much of a social outlet,” he said.

The Salvation Army also serves $1 soup-kitchen lunches for low-income people on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Mur said.

Hall, who has managed the Keystone store for about a year, said people of all ages were thinking of those less fortunate this year.

“I had one little girl, she said, Sir, do you take toys for kids that don’t have anything?'” he said. “I said, Yes, ma’am.’ She said, Well, I’ve got three bags, please.’ Even the children are thinking that way.”