Thrift shop helps those in need

Mona Cole, manager of the First Presbyterian Church’s Thrift Store in Johnstown, on March 3, shows off some of the items for sale to the public. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — One of the city’s more prominent churches — located in its heart — also has one of the area’s best kept retail secrets.

But First Presbyterian Church doesn’t want to keep this a secret.

The 37 S. Market St. church has been operating its successful Thrift Store since 2011, as a benefit to both the church’s congregation and the community at large.

“Everything is donated,” says store Manager Mona Cole. “Everyone [staff] is a volunteer.”

Cole said the Thrift Store — accessible off the northside church entrance of South Market Street — has sustained itself and been quite successful over the years. The store is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and during the same time the first Saturday of the month.

A look around the Thrift Store finds a variety of goods ranging from low-priced, clean clothes, coats, holiday items, games, electronics to a free wheelchair.

Rev. George Blakesley, pastor of First Presbyterian Church noted how clean the store is. He said shoppers can usually pick up something for “10 cents on the dollar.” And if they don’t have the money, the pastor said people entering the store “will leave with something.”

“The whole point of it is dignity,” Blakesley said. “They can get the help they need without feeling they need a handout.”

Cole said that when the Thrift Store first opened nine years ago, it was housed upstairs in the church. But it was later moved to the church basement for more room.

“It got too big for up there,” she said.

Any proceeds from the store go back into church activities for the needy and to help the community. For example, Blakesley said it entirely funds a free lunch that First Presbyterian Church offers twice a month. Known as a “community lunch,” the 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. program is held the first and last Saturdays of every month.

Cole is always looking for volunteers to help staff the Thrift Store, which was started by herself and Donna Chizek. Cole said the church used to hold normal rummage sales, but decided to expand that experience into a full-fledged retail operation.

“We were getting really nice stuff,” she said.

She said she’s not aware of any other churches in the area that have such stores within their churches.

The First Presbyterian Church Thrift Store is currently staffed by about five to six volunteers.

In a message on the church website, Cole states: “We are asking for people to work in the store. If you could just give four hours of your time each month on either Thursday or Friday, this would be a great help to us. If enough people help, we would not have to work more than once a month. It will be greatly appreciated.”

Cole said the store has seasonal sales, usually at the end of a season, when items are marked about half off.

“We have people come from all over,” she said of the customer base.

Cole said the Thrift Store not only funds the free community lunch, but revenue also augments a better Christmas season for needy families in the area. She said the church worked with the Fulton County Department of Social Services last December, aiding about 30 disabled people with their holiday needs.

She said the store also literally gives away items to the needy who pick them up. She has a special work room off the main storefront spaces, where she puts it all together for public sale.

“A lot of the stuff is brand new,” Cole said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Kerry Minor

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