Move paying big dividends for St. Vincent de Paul

ALPENA – The St. Vincent de Paul thrift store at 2635 US-23 South continues to give as good as it gets.

The store made $349,000 during its 2012 fiscal year, Manager Sheri Allen said. After salaries and expenses were deducted, the organization poured the rest of its earnings back into the community. Over $81,000 was used to help people pay rent and utilities or buy medical supplies. More than 13,749 meals were provided to prevent hunger. Another $10,450 in furniture and clothing was given to families in need.

“We help people avoid eviction, keep lights on and put nutritional food on their table,” said Allen, a professional retailer who previously worked for JC Penney.

One of the year’s highlights was the charity’s move in June to the remodeled Erb Lumber store south of Alpena. These days, a sleek storefront greets shoppers and offers plenty of parking. Heated by a geothermal well, the building offers lots of floor space, too, including a private entrance for those in need, Allen said.

“Before, they literally had to line up inside the old store on Chisholm Street,” Allen said. “We’d have 15 to 20 people standing in that store, because it was on a first-come, first-serve basis.”

For additional privacy, St. Vincent de Paul has set up appointments to handle requests for aid. When the food pantry is open, clients can select from fresh, canned and frozen foods.

The store also serves locals shopping for bargain clothing, kitchenware, books and furniture. Merchandise is donated by area residents who receive a tax deduction, and ranges from the everyday goods to the occasional luxury item.

For one customer, a trip to the store was nostalgic. Ann Kunath and her late mother, Millie, used to visit the old store on Chisholm Street once a week, looking for jewelry.

“My mother would fix it up and sell it at the senior citizen’s bazaar,” Kunath said. “It saved her sanity. It gave her something to do,”

The two would also scour the many clothing racks, and once found some silk suits and a cashmere coat, she said.

Gerrie LaCross has been a board member since 1973, and enjoys watching customers experience the thrill of hunting for treasures.

“It’s amazing what people will donate,” she said. “One of my customers was coming in to buy high-quality goods that she would resell to make money to pay her daughter’s medical bills,” LaCross said.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at or by phone at 358-5693.