One day during Christ?mas season last year, the blustery northern air outside contrasted with the warmth inside the Newton Et Cetera Shop. Sure, the temps were cozy in the local thrift store, but that wasn?t the only reason for the warmth.
That day, a woman ventured into the shop and asked to speak to a manager.
The woman, who wished to remain anonymous and went by ?Jane,? told Cindy Epp that her mother had fallen on hard times a number of years ago and was an Et Cetera Shop customer. As Jane?s mom was checking out after doing Christmas shopping there one holiday season, another customer offered to pay her bill. This made a difference to, and a great impression on, Jane?s mother and the family.
So, Jane gave Epp an envelope with $400.
The woman said her mother had died, and Jane wanted these funds from her mother?s estate used for another family in need. Epp attempted to get the woman?s full name, but she just said, ?Tell them it is a gift from God.?
Staff members decided to give four $100 Et Cetera Shop gift certificates to several families, with whom they were put in contact by a local resident.
?My mother is gone now, and I want to help other families in need,? Et Cetera staff recalled Jane as saying. ?And I want this money to be spent here.?
This isn?t the only encounter at the store that left a lasting impression on someone. Volunteers and the public tell shop staff they like hanging out there for the social experience.
?They appreciate the fellowship of the store,? said Cynthia Linscheid, general manager. Linscheid also said they have a lot of heartwarming stories that happen at the store ? things that remind them the store is more than about selling things.
One example of this involves retired minister and World War II veteran Herb Cies, 95, meeting two young women, Hannah Rhoades, 19, and Cassoday Harder, 21, at the store, striking up a conversation. Later, the three ran into each other at a Newton restaurant, and the young women invited Cies to join them. They all started having lunch together every week or two. The friendship blossomed into Cies getting to know the women?s families and going to their Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.
?A lot of people meet here,? said Linscheid, who has been on staff since February 2013.
On July 16, two volunteers ? Winnifred Garnett, who is a retired nurse of 42 years at Halstead, and Connie Germeroth of Moundridge ? worked in the back room. Germeroth fixed jewelry and Garnett sorted clothes, both sitting in a backdrop of clear empty hangers, joking with each other. Sorted clothes filled many containers.
?We all have a lot of fun back here,? said Germeroth, who has been working on jewelry there for 13 years.
Garnett has been a volunteer for three, although she only had intended to stay for one. She said she?s like a yo-yo ? you throw her out, and she comes back.
?Can?t get rid of her now,? Germeroth said jokingly. ?It?s a nice place to work. You can tell it?s a Christian atmosphere here.?
?We?re like one big happy family,? Garnett added. They talk about a variety of things, including grandchildren.
Another volunteer, Tyler Schroeder, who teaches business at Newton High School, also enjoys his time at the shop.
?I wanted to give my time to a good cause, and this summer presented a good opportunity to get involved here,? said Schroeder, who is in his first year of volunteering there. ?The work company is great, and the customers are friendly. It?s always a good time.?
In addition to benefitting the public and volunteers through fellowship, the thrift store also helps others by selling good-quality donations, much of which is clothing and housewares, at very affordable prices (like a shirt for $2) and giving the proceeds to Mennonite Central Committee, which is its parent organization, and to area nonprofits.
All items they sell are donated; by accepting donations, they give the public a chance to help others when people purchase their donations.
The shop accepts at its back door gently used, quality items. Donations end a half hour before they close. Store hours are 9:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. weekdays and 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturdays. Items they don?t accept are computers, printers, large appliances, mattresses, infant car seats, bicycle helmets and other items that would require safety verification.
?Other than that, we can take just about anything free of smoke, pet fur, mildew ? anything that?s in clean, good condition,? Linscheid said.
Not everything they receive can be sold. The store does a great deal of recycling of items made of fiber and other materials, like metal and anything that can go into Newton?s single-stream recycling. The shop has a partnership with the MCC Central States office in North Newton, which sends a worker with a flatbed trailer to move large amounts of linens and fabric items off the premises, in addition to taking barrels of things like shoes and purses, to its warehouse.
?They pick up a large load almost every day,? Linscheid said.
From there, some items are recycled for other purposes, said Tina Schrag, communications coordinator for MCC Central States, while most of it is resold in overseas markets. MCC attempts to deal with reputable companies.
?The main goal is that it doesn?t end up in landfills,? Schrag said.
Of course, what doesn?t end up in landfills (at least not from the shop) are the things Et Cetera sells. In fact, proceeds from what they sell help the community and the rest of the world. For example, in May, 12 area groups received a combined total of $32,835 in grants from Newton Et Cetera Shop?s Local Giving Fund; groups included Angels? Attic in Moundridge, Bethesda Home in Goessel, Harvey County Special Olympics and Shared Living Program at Prairie View. A total of 28 groups applied.
Since the Et Cetera board decided to give 10 percent of its yearly profits for community needs in 2012, a total of $74,000 has been donated to area nonprofits. For information on how to apply for a 2016 grant, watch facebook.com/NewtonEtc.
?Board members feel the Local Giving Fund is one of the key ways Et Cetera Shop gives back to the community,? a news release stated.
Since the store opened in 1976, it?s given about $3 million to MCC, which ?works to meet basic human needs by sending food or material goods, and funding projects in regions recovering from war and disasters,? according to a news release. In 2016, the shop will mark its 40th anniversary. In regard to sales, the store is quite successful, as the average daily income in 2014 was $2,100 per day, Linscheid said.
?The reason (the shop) was started was to create a way of making money to support the global relief work of MCC,? Linscheid said.
Volunteers were the ones who started the shop.
?That?s the reason the shop exists ? the volunteers,? Linscheid said.
Currently, the store is staffed by a management team of Linscheid, Cindy Epp, Deb Goering, Juan Coy Teni, Jaime C?zares, Kay Neff and Margo Wiens, and several backdoor workers and sorters. Assisting are 240 active volunteers, some who come two to three times a week for three- to four-hour shifts, while a lot of them go once a week or once or twice a month.
?If you add that up, that?s just a huge amount of volunteer time,? Linscheid said.
Of that 240, about 85 are clerks, Linscheid said. They have the special responsibility of working with and caring for the customers; they usually work in teams of three or four.
?We need many people to do that because it?s three shifts a day Mondays through Fridays, and two Saturdays,? Linscheid said, so that?s 17 clerk shifts a week. The store recently extended its weekday hours to 7:30 p.m., and they?ve seen an uptick in sales at night.
The shop has a number of special events, sales and silent auctions.
Once a year, the store hosts a College Night, which will be Aug. 27 this year. The event is open to any college student with college identification and lasts from 10 p.m. to midnight.
?Very popular night,? Linscheid said. ?Probably had about 350 kids last year. They have a lot of fun.?
As part of the night, students can use their receipts to get a free doughnut at Druber?s.
On the fourth Tuesday of each month, everything is half off.
?The store is packed,? Linscheid said. ?We sometimes have 500 to 600 shoppers.?
The store also has silent auctions on items that are vintage, antique or collectibles ? things that are unique or of special interest. Items in silent auctions have included a vintage guitar, Newton memorabilia, vintage dishes and kitchenware, vintage banks and Wizard of Oz items. Silent auctions are ongoing, and people can bid; if their bid goes unchallenged for five business days, they are the winner.
?It?s always great to see what people are interested in,? Linscheid said. ?And, of course, it?s always changing depending on what comes in since everything here is by donation.?
Another popular sale is the 25-cent tag day. Each week, items with different-colored tags are half price. For example, during the week of July 16, yellow-tagged items were 50 percent off. Then on the Saturday of that week, all yellow-tagged items were 25 cents. The 25-cent tag day is on Saturdays.
?People bring up big piles of stuff,? Linscheid said. ?People know how to shop.?
by Wendy Nugent