The Helping Hands thrift store: making a difference a quarter at a time
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the spring 2014 issue of HOPE magazine.
Who would have guessed so much good could be done with a quarter?
But plenty has in West Terre Haute, Ind. One quarter at a time.
A group of dedicated volunteers working together seem to make those quarters rain down from heaven to help people in need.
The Helping Hands thrift store in West Terre Haute started as a dream to help others. In 2003, four women were volunteering at Providence Food Pantry in West Terre Haute, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence.
A sister had been collecting clothing and handing it out at the pantry. The four saw people looking for it when the sister was no longer able to do so.
So they started talking about the need for a used clothing store in the community. They got together, called on help from local churches and other willing volunteers, and made the dream a reality.
In July 2003, they opened The Helping Hands thrift store next to the IGA in West Terre Haute.
They sell quality clothes and small household items at extreme bargain prices. Most are just a quarter.
All are welcome to shop at The Helping Hands. It’s for children who need decent clothes or shoes. It’s for adults wanting a good deal. It’s a way to buy something for someone who is struggling even if you don’t have much yourself.
And the store works. The shirts and shoes, the pants and books are donated in, organized and purchased out. And along the way quarters are rolling in and rolling out.
Shirley Herrington, one of the founding women at The Helping Hands, remembers that the first-day the not-for profit made 80-some dollars. “We were so excited,” she said.
“We soon found out that God’s plans are bigger than ours.”
“As our income grew, ideas for [using it as] donations grew,” Shirley said.
Today, streams of 40 to 50 customers line up and wait, some as much as a half hour, until the store opens. Staff and customers join in prayer together and then the shopping begins.
More than $600,000 has been collected and donated back to the local community since the shop began more than 10 years ago. That’s a lot of quarters.
The nine-member Helping Hands board focuses primarily on donating to help the hungry, the elderly and children within the West Terre Haute community.
Providence Food Pantry remains close to the heart of The Helping Hands board.
In 10 years they have donated nearly $200,000 to the food pantry. Their donations purchase fresh vegetables, meats and more to be given to local people in need each week.
“Without them we couldn’t survive,” says Sister Joseph Fillenwarth, director of Providence Food Pantry.
It takes a lot of dedicated work and the collaboration of many, many caring volunteers to make all that possible.
Visit the shop any day of the week, aside from Sunday, and you will find volunteers busy at work. They sort. They organize. They test toys. They set up housewares. They organize clothing racks.
“I just feel that God has led me to this, and by coming and donating my time, I am doing what God has planned for my life,” said Shirley, who continues to volunteer several days a week.
Her attitude is common among the all-volunteer staff. Listen to volunteers and you will start to hear a theme. Most are retired, some are widowed.
This place gives them purpose.
They feel good to be helping others, to be making other’s lives a little brighter, more comfortable.
In the process, they are also brightening their own.
“My husband calls this my second home,” says board member and volunteer Joy Haywood.
“I wanted to stay active after retiring. I now sometimes go home ready to cry I’m so active,” laughs retired school teacher Erma Simson.
Erma has volunteered overseeing housewares at The Helping Hands for nearly 10 years.
“I can’t imagine what my life would be like without it. It’s filled a real void in my life. We’re family here. We know all about one another,” she said.
“Everybody is working together. Even our customers help. They bring their donations here rather than elsewhere.”
Four retired Sisters of Providence join this band of loyal volunteers on Wednesday mornings.
Sister Suzanne Buthod (formerly Sister Mary Judith) began volunteering at The Helping Hands near its start. She served much of her 60-plus years as a Sister of Providence with marginalized people, and she wanted to continue helping a population she loves in her retirement.
“The Helping Hands for me is just perfect. I can no longer do the standing because of the Parkinson’s, so I do sizing,” she said.
She said she loves the cooperation of the churches represented here. She calls The Helping Hands a “grace-filled space” and she loves working alongside these women of faith.
Bonnie Monaghan, board member and treasurer for The Helping Hands, tells how she started volunteering as the thrift shop was starting.
She went a couple of times. She sorted and sorted and sorted. She didn’t really like it.
“But something just kept drawing me back and drawing me back,” she said.
What was that something?
“It was God,” she said. “I know what it was.”
And she and the many others continue to come together day after day.
Together they make a difference in many lives. In the life of the community.
Together they are God’s Helping Hands.
(Originally published in the spring 2014 issue of HOPE magazine.)