The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 13, 2013

People making a difference

Enid’s thrift stores open their doors to allow the community a way to help those in need

By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Many people become familiar with community thrift stores when they’re looking for a bargain, or when they’re cleaning out closets or the garage.

What they often do not see is the end result the shopping and selling at thrift stores provides— ministries, community development and charitable causes supported by the store sales.

From vocational rehabilitation and homeless shelter services to community arts programs, a significant portion of Enid’s non-profit causes benefit directly when people shop at or donate to local thrift stores.

The largest of these stores in the local area are Salvation Army Family Store, 518 N. Independence; Hope Outreach Ministries, 215 S. Van Buren; and Park Avenue Thrift, 507 S. Grand.

Salvation Army Family Store

Salvation Army Maj. John Dancer said proceeds from the Family Store cover a majority of operating costs — including the family and men’s shelters, soup kitchen, utility assistance programs and other outreach — for Salvation Army in Enid,.

“The object of the Family Store is that we can appropriate money from that account, so that we can pay the bills for everything else we do,” Dancer said.

Salvation Army also provides direct assistance to families who have lost their homes, particularly to fire, by providing them with an initial supply of furniture, clothing and home supplies for a new home.

Dancer said proceeds from the store go first to cover the store’s overhead, then to cover general budget expenses and community outreach.

“We have to take care of our overhead first,” Dancer said. “If we don’t pay our utilities, if we don’t pay our employees and put fuel in the truck, then we don’t have a store and we can’t help people.”

Dancer said the Salvation Army relies on both donors and shoppers at Family Store to keep operations going in all Salvation Army programs in the community.

“Our customers are very important to us, as well as our donors,” Dancer said. “If we don’t have donors we don’t have shoppers, and if we don’t have shoppers we don’t have income to appropriate to help the community.”

Hope Outreach

Matt Lohman, executive director at Hope Outreach Ministries, also said thrift store sales are essential to its operations.

“The thrift store provides 80-90 percent of the funding for our ministries,” Lohman said, “which is pretty unique, given the number of ministries we have.”

Hope Outreach Ministries operates community missions for parenting, the homeless and community care and a Faith Farm for therapeutic and demonstration gardening.

In addition to funding direct service ministries, the thrift store also enables people in need to earn essential items and learn job skills along the way.

People in need are given the opportunity to earn vouchers, which they can exchange for goods in the thrift store.

“We give them what they need, and we ask them to put forth the effort,” Lohman said. “They put in some work and get what they need out of it.”

The thrift store also provides a venue for vocational rehabilitation, especially for workers with previous felony or drug convictions trying to reenter the work force.

“The hidden aspect of our ministry is that we provide employment for about 30 people who are otherwise hard to employ,” Lohman said. “We’re giving them the opportunity to get back into the work force and to work their way toward a better job.”

Lohman said the community always has been supportive of the thrift store, both by donating goods and shopping in the store.

When people shop in or donate to the store, Lohman said they can be assured all contributions go directly to helping people in the local community.

“Everything stays in Enid and the northwest Oklahoma area,” Lohman said. “We’re not a national organization, and everything stays here to go into ministry, to empower people to responsible living.”

Lohman said Hope Outreach’s ministries in Enid would not be possible without the community’s support.

“The community has been really good at helping us out and contributing with donations,” Lohman said. “We’re here to help the community, but we couldn’t help the community without support from the community.”

Park Avenue Thrift

Park Avenue Thrift was founded in October 2007 as a result of a question pondered by co-directors Paula Nightengale and David Hume: “Would you rather have a half-million dollars or give away a half-million dollars?”

Nightengale said she posed that question to Hume, and they both agreed it would be much more fun to give away wealth than to accumulate it.

In the less-than six years that have passed, Park Avenue Thrift has grown into a large operation that stretches far beyond the walls of the store front at Grand and Garriott.

The non-profit now is closing in on the $1 million mark of donations to community charities and quality of life non-profits, all funded by donations and purchases at the thrift store.

Nightengale said Park Avenue Thrift fills a niche that does not compete with the services provided by Salvation Army and Hope Outreach.

She said Park Avenue uses store proceeds to support local quality of life initiatives, with a portion going to other non-profit organizations that provide direct “benevolence services” to those in need.

Nightengale said the benevolence organizations “have a specific mission to help someone with a specific need,” and the broader community initiatives are ones that “are there to help everyone by raising the quality of life for the entire community.”

She said Park Avenue Thrift gives a portion to direct benevolence charities but focuses on the community quality of life initiatives to fill an open niche, and to support improvement of the community as a whole.

“It’s almost like a tithe goes to the benevolence side of things,” Nightengale said. “But, our primary focus is to support a broad community quality of life. The question we have to ask is ‘How does this affect the entire community?’”

Park Avenue Thrift provides direct monetary support and in-kind donations to more than 30 local non-profits, schools and community development organizations, such as Enid Symphony Orchestra, Leonardo’s Discovery Warehouse, Main Street Enid, Creative Arts Enid and Gaslight Theatre.

Nightengale said the in-kind donations are a preferred method of giving for Park Avenue Thrift, because it helps the recipient organizations to raise even greater sums.

“It really helps them when they can say, ‘If you donate, it will be doubled,’ and we really like to help leverage donations in the community that way,” she said.

By supporting quality of life organizations with monetary donations, Nightengale said Park Avenue Thrift helps those organizations focus less on fundraising and more on improving the community.

“We wanted to lighten the load for them,” she said, “so they could be more about doing the thing they do, instead of trying to support the thing they do.”

Nightengale said thrift store shopping helps everyone in the process, from the donor to the organization or person in need who receives the benefits of sales.

“It’s win-win, all the way around,” Nightengale said. “The shopper wins, the donor wins, the organization wins ... the whole community wins.”

Now, as Park Avenue Thrift approaches the $1million mark in its community contributions, Nightengale said she expects that pace of giving to increase in the coming years.

“That happens because of people,” Nightengale said. “It’s because of people who donate, people who shop, people who work here and people out in the community who are making our city a better place to live. People make all the difference.”