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The gift that keeps on giving

Cheryl Johnson, manager of St. Vinnie’s in The Dalles, shows off electrical cords that are neatly coiled and marked so that customers can easily find what they are looking for. She finds plenty of use for her organizational skills at the thrift store, which offers a wide range of goods including clothing, household goods, jewelry, glassware, furniture, crafts, books, movies, and more.

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Cheryl Johnson, manager of St. Vinnie’s in The Dalles, shows off electrical cords that are neatly coiled and marked so that customers can easily find what they are looking for. She finds plenty of use for her organizational skills at the thrift store, which offers a wide range of goods including clothing, household goods, jewelry, glassware, furniture, crafts, books, movies, and more.


Furniture is donated to St. Vinnie’s every day in a variety of styles and colors. If you are looking for something specific, Cheryl Johnson, store manager, recommends that you check in freqently. Each piece is put on the 50 percent off rotation so it can become an even better deal.

By The Numbers

There are 15 St. Vinnie’s stores in Oregon, employing a total of about 600 people. The list of charitable causes supported in part by the revenue of shoppers is long, according to Paul Neville, public relations director and grant manager. He works at St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, which is the hub for stores and outreach efforts throughout the state.

In addition to funding projects in the communities where stores are located, such as help for needy families through St. Paul Catholic Church in The Dalles, the nonprofit raises money for a variety of larger programs.

Some of its enterprises include the sale of rare books and recycled materials, the latter of which diverted 195,461 mattresses from landfills in 2015.

Following is a list of programs offered by St. Vincent’s:

•   The Veterans’ Housing project is a collaborative efffort of private, public and nonprofit groups to help men and women reintegrate back into the civilian world after deployment. Affordable housing is made available for up to two years, giving tenants time to get reacquainted, explore their options and move forward.

•   Homeless day services were provided in 2015 to 8,009 adults and 540 families, including 1,117 children. In addition, night shelter and safe parking was offered to 1,100 adults and families.

•   Military families who are homeless are given resources that help them become or remain permanently housed. Sponsored by a grant from the VA (Veterans’ Administration), Support Services for Veteran Families provides financial assistance and case management.

•   First Place Family Center is a refuge and place of support for people in crisis who are at risk of losing their housing or are in transition due to job loss, health issues or other critical problems. For more than 20 years, this program has met the immediate needs of families by identifying barriers to self-sufficiency. The program includes parenting classes, budgeting and money management, GED classes and more. More than 1,100 people receive this assistance each year.

•   Emergency services: Everyone falls on hard times and people without a support system can turn to the social service office at St. Vincent for assistance. In 2015, about 8,400 households were helped and 18,400 food boxes provided. Other services include: rent assistance, emergency prescription medicines, propane vouchers for heating, bus tokens, clothing and household goods.

In total, Neville said more than 84,000 individuals and families are helped each year by the society, which was founded in 1953 and incorporated two years later. In total, more than 1,300 units of housing have been developed since 1988.

The nonprofit is named after Saint Vincent de Paul, who was born in France in 1581 and served the poor as a Catholic priest until his death in 1660.

His work included an appointment as chaplain to the galleys, where he ministered to slaves.

Ignited by a passion to relieve suffering, he founded the Congregation of the Mission, a society of priests in 1625.

The magic of Christmas is in the giving of gifts as well as receiving them, and shopping at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in The Dalles — or “St. Vinnie’s” — enables people to enjoy both benefits.

Not only can you find the perfect vintage or collectible item for someone on your Christmas list, but the money you spend helps veterans, the homeless and families in need.

“We’ve got a lot of unique items that come from all over,” said Cheryl Johnson, manager of the local store at 505 West Ninth Street.

“Shopping here can bring back memories for people, many of whom say, ‘Oh, I had that when I was little…’ It’s fun and it’s affordable and it supports a good cause.”

To make the holidays even more merry, high-end items, such as furniture, go on the same rotation for a 50 percent discount as other merchandise. The first week the item is regular price, the second it is discounted by 25 percent and the following week, the price is cut by 50 percent.

The exception to the rotation are craft supplies, clothing and books, which are marked down by 50 percent during sales.

Every day, there are hundreds of new items on shelves and hangers, and the inventory of furniture frequently includes antiques and top-name brands.

Jewelry, from classic costume pieces to gold and diamond necklaces, rings and earrings, is exhibited in glass cases.

“You can come in here looking for one thing and then easily go out with 10 items,” said Johnson. “There’s something for everybody.”

If you don’t know what to buy that special person in your life, she said gift certificates are sold in any denomination, so the recipient can have the joy of doing their own browsing.

Johnson came onboard after the $100,000 overhaul of the building was completed in 2014 and it reopened under the umbrella of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, which helps sort and stock high-quality inventory.

The retail floor expanded considerably, to 22,000 square feet, and operating hours were extended from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

An expert in product layout designed displays in the store to replicate a standard retail outlet where goods are easy to spot and sort through. Gone are the days pwhen people had to dig to the bottom of a bin in hopes of finding treasures.

Johnson has put her organizational skills to work and made shopping even easier for customers. Clothing is hung in color groups, as well as by size and season, and even computer, phone and extension cords are neatly coiled and labelled to make selection easier.

The same is true for vacuum bags and kitchen gadgets. Everything is matched up and ready to go into a shopping cart.

Electronics – computers, televisions, stereos, VCRs, DVD players and more – are checked out to make sure they work before they are put on display. Two employees knowledgeable in technology stand by to answer customer questions.

“You could actually outfit a house by what you find in here,” said Johnson.

There are shelves of candles and sewing machines to choose from. Aisles are dedicated to cookware, throw pillows, blankets, sheets, bedspreads, dishes, home décor, utensils, sports, purses, shoes, puzzles and pets. And there is a section devoted to tools and automotive supplies.

Whimsical figurines for less than $5 grace some shelves and practical products, such as simple canning jars for 49 cents each, or $1.99 for collectibles, are available on others.

Two carts of books per day are unloaded and categorized by authors; movies are alphabetized by title.

Paperbacks sell for $1.79 each and hardcovers for $2.79. VHS movies can be purchased for 99 cents and DVDs for $3.99.

“It’s a really fun job. The day goes so fast and there’s so much to do,” said Johnson of keeping things in order.

Her own home is always tidy, so she makes sure the store is too because that makes browsing more convenient.

“I’m kinda OCD,” she explained with a smile.

As if shopping at St. Vinnie’s isn’t fun enough, Johnson said revenue from the store, along with donations, help fill backpacks with school supplies each year for local students and holiday baskets every Thanksgiving and Christmas for families in need.

“I like that the money stays here, it’s awesome,” she said.

Sleeping bags, tents, coats and clothing are given to the homeless who are braving the elements and wander by. Or to individuals who receive a voucher at the Warming Place, a shelter located at the St. Vincent de Paul building on Third Street.

“People in need can come here and we will help,” said Johnson. “This is just a great place and it feels good to be here.”


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