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What St. Vinny's is (and isn't)

by LARRY RILEY/Guest Opinion
| April 9, 2021 1:00 AM

When I received some not-so-pleasant feedback the other day, I wondered how many others shared the same misconceptions about St. Vincent de Paul’s Thrift stores and the role they play in accomplishing our mission.

From humble beginnings in 1946, when we opened a clothing closet at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church to help people in need, we have grown to three stores that now support over a dozen essential social service programs.

These programs include a community kitchen which feeds more than 14,000 meals annually, over 300 units of low-income housing for the disabled, elderly and veterans, a shower and laundry facility that serves-up 5,000 duds and suds a year, the only men’s emergency shelter in Kootenai County, a women & children’s shelter, the region’s only winter warming center, a Rapid Re-housing program that helps the homeless find and keep housing, a payee services department, a life skills program that houses those with mental health challenges, child abuse prevention and parent education program, an adult and children’s food program and yes, a program where folks in need can still obtain clothing.

We are the largest nonprofit in North Idaho and we depend on grants, private donors, fundraisers, and store sales to keep these programs in operation. Sales from our thrift stores in Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls and Osburn account for 34% of our total income.

Supporters give to us because they know their donations contribute to helping our community’s most vulnerable citizens. Sales also fund our programs targeting the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population as they strive to make ends meet and work to improve their lives. To quote one donor — “I give to St. Vinny’s because I know St. Vinny's will use the proceeds to help people less fortunate."

We want to sell donated merchandise for a fair price, yet that does not mean we will always be the low-price leader. We strive to be fair to our donors, while generating a reasonable return to be invested in our social service programs. We do not have a "profit" motive, rather a "service" motive to help people who need a “hand up, not a handout.”

So please know that when you donate to or purchase from St. Vinny’s, your dollar is buying more than a gently used treasure. It is also buying things like a meal for someone hungry, a night in a safe, warm bed for a child, a haircut and a suit for someone preparing for a job interview or another month in a home that a family was about to lose.

St. Vincent’s would not remain in business if it were not for our donations and individuals who purchase them. We appreciate every one of you, and please know that our clients do too! For a more detailed breakdown of services, please visit our website at stvincentdepaulnorthidaho.org.

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Larry Riley is executive director of St. Vincent de Paul of North Idaho.