MARQUETTE - Each day Stephanie Brodeaux walks onto the floor of the St. Vincent de Paul store in Marquette evaluating the entire store. As the manager, her goal is to make as many improvements as possible. The more customers, the more sales. And every penny of store profit goes directly to the food pantry to serve those in need.
Brodeaux, along with the store's 17 employees and numerous volunteers, is experiencing one of the busiest times of year. With school back in session, many parents and students are shopping for clothes, furniture and anything else to help jump-start the new school year. The store's layout was remodeled on Aug. 22 and the fall stock was put on the shelves.
"It's a good way to buy good items at an affordable price," Brodeaux said.
Annika Hanson, left, and Amber Fullmer, both students at Northern Michigan University, browse the clothes at St. Vincent’s. Both are regular customers at the store, which also sells furnitire. (Journal photo by Abbey Hauswirth)
She said what flies off the shelf is dependent on the season. Overall, all items are sold at an even pace and so far, sales have been good this year however, they can always use more customers. The store is sustained by donations. And while many may browse the store, few have any comprehension of how big the operation is behind-the-scenes.
"I love the look on people's faces when they see the work going on and realize that this place never stops," Brodeaux said.
From the bottom floor all the way to the highest ceilings in the attic, the store is stacked with donated items, all labeled and in their proper place. Included in the space are different checkpoints that each item must go through before it ever sees the shelves. Clothes, for example, are checked four times before the public tries them on. Anything the employees or volunteers wouldn't wear themselves - an item with stains, holes etc. - does not make it onto the floor. In addition, St. Vincent's has designated rooms where toys are cleaned and electronics are checked.
There are a few roadblocks, however, that cause headaches at St. Vincent's. One main problem is people going to the store at night and dumping trash or unwanted items into their dumpster. Employees recently arrived at work to find a piano in the dumpster. Other drop-offs have included couches, desks and other damaged items that cannot be used.
"What people don't realize is, as residents they can go to a proper location and dump for free. As a business, we have to pay. Our bill last month for trash was $1,500. That money could have gone toward programs for people who really need it," Brodeaux said.
One misconception that St. Vincent officials said they encounter is people assuming they cannot shop at the store because they are not Catholic. Ron Provost, president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, said that a wide range of people come to shop - not just Catholics. The store is open to everyone.
Aside from turning their profits to the food pantry, the store also offers various programs to help those in need, including the Christmas Program. This program allows families who regularly could not afford a Christmas with gifts to be able to provide that for their children.
A second program that Brodeaux said many do not know about and are not utilizing is the Hospital Loan Program. This program loans wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, hospital beds and many other items used for medical needs for free. All of the items are new and can be borrowed for as long as an individual needs.
The store has between 12 and 15 volunteers. Many of them are regulars, returning time and again. One such volunteer is Ann Kind, a retired baker from Marquette. She said she volunteers, and encourages other to do the same, because of its health benefits.
"I feel a lot better when I am volunteering and I'm out of the house... it's a good thing for the entire community."
Kind has been volunteering a few days a week for more than a year.
Although the store does not allow items such as mattresses or large appliances to be donated, Brodeaux said they try to utilize everything. Clothes or blankets that have holes in them are patched together and sent to the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter to keep the dogs warm. Blankets have also been made out of the clothes to send to those overseas or in disaster areas.
Brodeaux said the store follows a simple motto: If you wouldn't wear it or use it for yourself, don't donate it.
Abbey Hauswirth can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 240.