Julie Halpert 2016-05-23 10:57:38
A decades-old resale shop in Michigan thrives. Business is brisk today at the Lion’s Den. Rebecca DeJesus pushes a cart full of glassware in her cart and hunts for clothes for her 11 grandchildren. The goods here are plentiful, and the prices are unbelievable. “You get a lot for a good price, and everything is of very high quality. Retail stores are too expensive,” says DeJesus, who drives nearly an hour roundtrip five times a week from Toledo, Ohio, to the resale shop in Temperance, Michigan. Tatiana Dahmoun, 20, of Temperance, shops with her mother. She recently found a jacket with its original $80 price tag that cost only $4. “I was so excited,” she says. Lynette Fisher, the manager and volunteer coordinator of the Lion’s Den, says she hasno trouble recruiting Lions and others to help at the resale shop. Since 1978, the Bedford Township Lions Club has been operating the Lion’s Den. It sells used clothing as well as used small household items and appliances. The prices—many clothes cost no more than a dollar—draw treasure hunters as well as those in need, both from the area and miles away. The shop is located in an unassuming orange-brick building on a quiet downtown street. Next door is an auto body repair shop, and across the street stands the Faith Chapel Church of God. Only a small sign in the window marks the resale store’s presence. The shop’s inconspicuous footprint belies its importance. The Den raised $100,000 last year alone. Bedford Lions funneled that into 50 different types of charities including Leader Dogs for the Blind, Relay For Life, Ronald McDonald House and the YMCA Scholarship Fund. The Den “attracts people who need a break. This store provides that break,” says Jon White, club president. The high quality merchandise “gives everyone the opportunity to take advantage of the value.” Temperance is a small village in southeast Michigan in Bedford Township, which has 30,000 residents. The economy has been steadily improving in the township, yet sales at the shop continue to rise. “I suspect some of that is because of more, betterquality donations,” says Lion Garnet Francis. The store carries an assortment of goods. Racks of clothes of all sizes hang in the center, surrounded by silverware, stacks of books, board games, a remote-controlled truck and a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. Pillows, blankets, crocheted afghans and an illustration of Jesus frame the right wall. Jon White, club president, says the shop “attracts people who need a break.” This is a place where people feel at ease. Long-time volunteers chat with regular customers, discussing the weather, church outings and family. “I pray for you every Sunday,” one customer says. “It's not working," laughs the volunteer. The store, which is open every day but Sunday, is able to generate big profits because it has no overhead. Bedford Township owns the building, a former car dealership, and occupies the back of it, while allowing the Lions to set up shop in what used to be the showroom in the front free of charge. Lions Larry O’Dell and George Warnke direct the operation, and the 35 workers at the shop except Lynette Fisher, 50, who has been running the store since September, are volunteers. Most are senior citizens, able to donate their time. “We have never had a problem getting volunteers,” says Francis. Lions staff the shop two days a week later in the day, when seniors are less willing to be there, especially in the winter when it gets dark early. About 25 Lions regularly volunteer. Fisher says the recipe for the Den's financial success is a simple one: clothes are priced at “garage sale prices.” All the items the Den sells are donated. The store typically attracts between 50 to 60 customers a day. They are a wide range of people, from those who love treasure hunting to others truly in need. “We don't always know their circumstances and what befalls another family. They could have lost a job or had [an expensive] roof repair but their kids need new school clothes,” says Fisher. Those experiencing a disaster, such as a fire, are given a voucher for a certain number of free items. “They're very thankful. There's always a smile,” Fisher says. She recalls a mother who was looking for winter coats in sizes 8, 6, 4, 3 and 2 for her five young children, but none were in stock. When coats arrived two weeks later, Fisher contacted her and provided them. It’s difficult to predict the types of donations that will come through the door. Recently, it was 20 garbage bags full of plus-sized women's clothing. “You never know what you'll find. That's part of the fun of it,” Fisher says. Sometimes people drop off a bag or two of goods for the shop. Other times, after a garage sale, a trunk full of goods is donated. “We do seem to get a lot of stuff from families who are emptying out their parents’ home when they die or go to a nursing home,” says Francis, who is a deputy clerk for Bedford Township. “I know that when my husband and I sold our house and downsized last year, I hauled a lot of stuff to the Den for resale.” Residents know about the Den simply because it’s been around so long. The club also advertises in the Bedford Press. A good percentage of donations actually are sent to the Salvation Army. “We sent any dirty, damaged clothing to them because we don’t have the ability to clean or repair items,” says Francis. Volunteer Theresa Miller, 87, dresses professionally in a blazer and black pants. She has dedicated 20 years to the Den. Her energy, upright posture and brisk walk defy her advanced age as she confidently interacts with customers. She believes volunteering helps her stay vital. “A lot of people thank us daily for having this store here. They just love it. You see the same people every week. You make a lot of friends. It's a very happy place to work," she says. She plans to continue working there “as long as my knees hold up and my eyesight too.” Volunteers Kathy Runkle, Dorothy Bridgeman and Jean Penner chat amiably as they cheerfully sift through dozens of garbage bags of donations that take up an entire room in the back of the store. Runkle volunteers as a brief respite from her full-time job caring for her 90-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia. She pays a caregiver $80 every time she volunteers. Runkle is often touched by the actions of her fellow volunteers. She points to Bridgeman, a soft-spoken, 20-year volunteer, who gave a dollar of her own money to a man who was short the price of a $3 winter coat. He put on the coat as he walked outside; it was his only one. “That's what this is all about,” Runkle says. “I buy for a lot of people,” Bridgman responds. Penner once spotted a young woman she had worked with at a nearby grocery store in the Den who didn’t have enough money to purchase a garbage bag full of clothes. The woman had a disability and her mother, her caregiver, was killed in a car crash. Knowing she was struggling financially, Penner gave her $5 so she could make the purchase. The significance of the shop to the Lions is evident at a recent club meeting. The Erie Restaurant in Erie seems set in time from when it opened 71 years ago, with green carpeting and paneling adorned by a moose head. Decked out in yellow vests, two dozen Lions engage in cheerful conversation while seated at long, rectangular tables. They communally feast on salad, baked chicken and green beans. The 46-year-old club has 69 members, many of whom joined decades ago. Past District Governor John Cioroch, 78, is one of the oldest-serving members. He joined in 1970. The funeral home he purchased came with a membership. He’s forged 45-year friendships with members built through the camaraderie of helping people. He recalls how the shop began: a pastor who belonged to the club got a call about a family in need. As Cioroch walked out of the family's house, the pastor said to him, “John, they've got a problem.” The two rallied Lions to bring clothing, which were sorted at Cioroch’s funeral home. Once they were distributed to family members, there were clothes left over. President Ron Hershberger, a charter member of the club, suggested a resale shop. He thought this would be a perfect club project, recalls his widow, Alice Hershberger, who is at the dinner meeting. “Nobody ever thought it would last this long,” she says. The shop was originally located in the Lions’ clubhouse, owned by Lion Chuck Greer. The shop has since been relocated several times. Ron’s son, Todd, 48, owns the Erie Restaurant. He clears empty dishes as he tells the story of how he became an “unofficial Lions member” when he was 10 years old, painting and setting up clothing racks for the shop. He agrees that the low prices fueled the store's longevity by “having a place for people who don’t have money to buy pants for 50 cents and shirts for a dollar.” He joined the Lions seven years ago so he could bring his father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s, to meetings. But “he never made it,” passing away five years ago. A former administrator of Bedford Public Schools, Lion Larry O'Dell serves as the director of the Den. “We've had a really good month financially. We’re really happy with how people are working together to make it a better Lion’s Den," O’Dell says. Being involved in an endeavor that so directly helps others is particularly rewarding, he adds. He recalls a victim of domestic abuse who fled with nothing. Fisher asked him, “How much should I give her?” O’Dell replied, “What would Jesus do?” The Den provided her and her three children with a full set of clothes. The Den is also there for people when disasters such as house fires strike. “I've opened the shop for people when the house was still burning,” Cioroch says. Some of the money raised through the Den provides eyeglasses for those in need. “We will get thank-you notes—the fact that they can see, people are almost in tears,” says Francis, who joined the club 12 years ago. “That's where we get our gratification.” The Den's profits continue to increase. “Four years ago, if we had a $300 day, it was a miracle. We were thrilled,” says Francis. “Yesterday, we had a $700 day.” The goal for 2016 is for the Den to generate $115,000, which will enable the club to donate even more money for good causes. That will continue to make members such as O'Dell happy. “I just feel good about working there,” he says. “My feeling is we do God's work there without being in a church.” Julie Halpert is a freelance writer based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and a self-described foodie who relished her stint as a local restaurant critic. Digital LION Read about the Bonita Springs Lions and their nifty thrift store (November 2010 LION).
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://digital.lionmagazine.org/article/Top+Shop/2482079/302227/article.html.