[Life] Volunteers, Donations, Keep the Faith in Resale Shop

 Love Donated And Clients Reap The Reward

Duneland Resale is ‘Faith In Action’

   It is actually hard to totally understand what Duneland Resale has become.

It was not hard to imagine what it was supposed to be.

At the turn of the century, The Mission Committee of St. John United Methodist Church in Chesterton was looking for a new way to expand its outreach into the communities it served.

“We knew there was lots of poverty and homelessness in the area,” said volunteer Ann Howard.

“As the mills continued to decline (it had been decades), it just got worse.

“We came up with the idea of resale. Some on the committee were dubious. It took a lot of discussion. And we wanted to make sure it was at least citywide, not necessarily tied into the church.”

They have moved form building to bigger building, always fortunate to sell the previous structure and are now in what locals remember as the former Wise Way store, 801 Broadway. It’s the fourth in the succession

But that’s just the building. What is inside, in spirit and in person, is what counts.

The resale shop is more than a success. To many, it is a community center, where friends meet friends, where friends volunteer with friends and where everyone is welcome.

One of the neat aspects is to realize former physicians, business leaders and elected officials all just fall into the mix, no titles, as volunteers on a first-name basis.

“We have more volunteers and community support than we could have imagined,” Howard said.

“People donate for various reasons. Some will hear of what we do with the profits and donate for that reason, for the cause. They might know a ‘Dorothy Smith’ who works there and decide they want to be there, too.

“Some will say they wanted to ‘Send my friend over here,’ because he was looking for something to do,” Howard said. There are intrafraternity groups like Friends of Resale” and “Regular Resale Shoppers” that thrive. Sometimes, it is apparent, the socialization is important and the ship serves as the gathering place.

They have taken field trips together to concerts and plays. They have celebrated births and memorialized deaths in their family.

So, what started with less than a dozen volunteers has grown to almost a hundred regulars, with 27 hours of official business each week. They get no financial support from anyone else.

The fact the project’s faith-based draws still more donations and customers, as everyone realizes any profits go even further. There are folks from 20 communities involved. Clergy screen those in need at their churches and get gift certificates for those in need.

There are the usual costs of doing business, of course: NIPSCO, insurance, building maintenance. In the early days, one volunteer, now departed, paid the water bill without anyone knowing it, until the ship was on its feet.

They have assisted families with the costs of travel to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

They have volunteered as teams and walked in many charitable events, like “Relay for Life.” “Everyone has had someone who has cancer, everyone has been touched,” said Howard.

If they hear of a family in need of paying other medical costs, money will be anonymously applied to the bill.                                                                     

Beyond that, there is the Resale Community Center with its social services all under one roof, including the food pantry.

There have been more times than can ever be counted when a child or a parent will realize they do not have enough money to pay for obviously needed clothes and the cashier will just say the money they have certainly covers the bill. At Christmastime, each customer registers for a percentage off their bill and the 100 percenters are joyously announced to the whole store.

I have been asked,” said Howard, “People will say ‘Why don’t you just give the items away?’ and the answer is we do have costs and we do have designated charities but we certainly don’t deny many customers.”

And all donations to the more than 100 charities the shop assists are done anonymously.

Unused items have been shared with other charities, from medical centers to missions.

Theater groups come in and find costuming for the local productions. Westchester Public Library finds items to enliven the displays there. Lawyers for those who cannot afford much come and get proper courtroom attire for there clients.

Here is just one wonderful memory from a volunteer: Joy Johnston recalls a family whose mom was dying of cancer and whose grandmother had taken over the children, though her income was limited to Social Security. They had “just enough” by Joy’s tally to get what they wanted to get. “Thank You for my bed,” said one of the children. “I don’t have to sleep on the floor anymore.”

Joy also knows of a child saving all his money – gifts from holidays and Christmas – until he could buy the three-wheeled bike he saw there for a neighbor with Multiple Sclerosis. 

With all the examples Howard has heard through the dozen years at the shop, someone suggested she start taking notes. She did. The result is a book about the store: A Miracle In Progress, available as another item in the store.

“And that just triggers others to share their stories and others to donate,” she said. There is no doubt a sequel in the works.

One of the principles for success, said Howard, is something she learned at another volunteer opportunity, at the Westchester Library.

“They always taught us, ‘People First,’ which means remember to treat everyone with dignity. And we do.”