By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published May 16, 2014
KENNESAW—Twenty years is a long time to serve at any one job much less a volunteer position.
Together, Norma Eggleston, Yvonne Chan and Sandra Bryant have more than 60 combined years of volunteer service at their neighborhood St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in Kennesaw.
Bryant, volunteer and now store manager, and Chan each have 20 years of service. Eggleston has more than 20 years of volunteer time.
The Kennesaw store, celebrating its 20th anniversary, is one of 10 St. Vincent de Paul stores in Georgia and the highest in volume for both donations and sales.
Behind-the-scenes, it’s a flurry of activity with volunteers working regularly scheduled days to sort through and price items.
Bryant, Chan and Eggleston all had other careers first. Bryant worked in accounting, Eggleston in banking and Chan was a nurse.
“I read that they needed help in the bulletin,” said Bryant, who is a parishioner of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Kennesaw. “I never realized I’d be with them for 20 years.”
Eggleston and Chan also attend Mass at St. Catherine of Siena.
Jim Boff, another parishioner, first spearheaded organization of the store. Eggleston volunteered to help with set-up of the store’s original location in the same plaza on Summers Street.
“I didn’t intend to go any further than that,” said Eggleston. But more than two decades later she’s still there. “I’m not one to stay home all day,” she said.
“I just love coming here and being with people,” said Chan. She enjoys pricing the clothes and housewares. “It’s just really interesting. We get so many beautiful housewares.”
Eggleston likes sorting through and pricing jewelry or accessories, some donated in bulk by stores going out of business. She also works as a cashier and straightens up the display areas of the store.
Both Chan and Eggleston said their late husbands volunteered their time for SVdP. Oland Chan helped lay out the current location of the store at 2722 Summers St. and the design gives shoppers plenty of room to move with ease. Eggleston’s husband, Bill, liked to help by making sure donated electronic items were working properly at the workbench station in the back room.
Bryant said she currently has a regular volunteer force of about 70 people mostly from Transfiguration Church in Marietta, St. Michael the Archangel Church in Woodstock and St. Catherine of Siena.
Some non-Catholics volunteer regularly as well. “We’ll convert them later,” Bryant joked.
A partnership with Kennesaw State University also allows students to help out for service hours. “We love having young people,” said Bryant.
Ultimately it’s the mission of St. Vincent de Paul of Georgia that keeps the volunteers coming back to help each week.
“It’s really a benefit to everyone,” said Bryant.
She mentioned a regular shopper and client of St. Vincent de Paul who has custody of six grandchildren. Being able to shop there with vouchers helps the woman to better provide for her grandchildren.
For one in five Georgians, poverty is a daily reality with many struggling to obtain basic necessities like food and shelter.
In 2012-13, SVdP served more than 155,000 Georgians by giving $6.3 million in direct financial aid and almost $1.4 million in food, clothing and household goods. The thrift stores help the society to provide these services, with family support centers located in many of the stores. The revenue collected by the 10 thrift stores in Georgia was more than $1.6 million.
The nonprofit Society provides services to clients through 73 parish conferences and family support centers. The program also has a transitional job training program. Revenues from the local thrift stores remain in their respective communities.
Another perk of volunteering at the Kennesaw thrift store is getting first dibs on purchasing items. “Volunteers are some of our best shoppers,” said Bryant.
Generous donors also give items that are hard to price including heirlooms and Bibles. They donate Bibles and give away rosaries for free.
Sorting through seasonal items takes a lot of time. The work stations of volunteers Mary Wright and Marg Hopkins of Transfiguration Church are always littered with Christmas items from clothes to floral arrangements and decorations.
Seasonal items are donated year-round, and to save time they price them throughout the year and then store them until November.
“I’m the junior elf,” joked Wright, a volunteer for three and a half years.
Eggleston and Chan are sporting new name tags with their 20-year service indicated on them. They also observed the store’s anniversary with a markdown of items.
“We had our 20th anniversary sale,” said Bryant. “They’re a lot of work.”
Chan called Bryant the “glue” that helps the store and volunteers stick together.
Bryant says the store has been “truthfully blessed” with donations. Whenever a problem arises, it’s usually resolved quickly.
“If we ever have a need, God takes care of it,” said Bryant.
Loyal shoppers are part of the store’s success. Shopper Elizabeth Tyson of Kennesaw is not Catholic, but learned about St. Vincent de Paul stores while living in Detroit.
“I like the way it’s laid out. It’s not crowded. There’s always something different,” said Tyson.
For Tyson, the kindness of the volunteer staff at the Kennesaw store is important too. “They’re really friendly,” she said.
Tyson shops “often” both for herself and seniors in her building who are on a fixed income.
Items for sale include furniture, books, toys, clothes for all ages, greeting cards, dishes, shoes, DVDs, and artwork. What cannot be sold is donated, and what cannot be used is recycled.
Eggleston calls herself a “Wednesday person,” as that’s her scheduled day to be at the store. The 85-year-old grandmother even takes work home to do for the store.
“As long as I’m able, I’ll keep going,” said Eggleston.
For more information on the Society, its programs, what types of donations are accepted at stores, or thrift store hours, go to www.svdpatl.org.