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A Special to The Leaven

The first Catholic Charities TurnStyles Thrift Store opened its doors on Valentine’s Day 2004.

Twenty years later, there are three thriving TurnStyles — two in Overland Park and the most recent addition in Mission.

“It has been truly amazing to see how this ministry has grown over the last 20 years,” said Carol Cowdrey, vice president of marketing and communications for Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. “To think it evolved from a small group of donors who wanted to contribute to those in need.”

TurnStyles administrative assistant Shirley Holland has been around from that start.

 “It originated from our Catholic Charities location in Wyandotte County on Central (Avenue), in our assembly room,” she said.

As the room filled with donations, someone suggested the idea of opening a thrift store.

“And it kind of took off,” said Cowdrey. “It was very volunteer-driven, and it still is.”

Mission store manager Anthony Avis has been with TurnStyles for nine years, renovating the 87th St. store and opening the Mission store; he’s impressed with the growth he’s seen.

“It’s changed in a good way,” he said. “It was a mom-and-pop store. But now, we’re definitely ramping it up — the growth has been fantastic.”

Volunteers are the force behind TurnStyles’ success.

“Our volunteers are amazing,” said Avis. “It’s such a blessing that they give of their time, and all of them do it for different reasons — some of them want to give back. Some find friends here.

“We have a few around who have been here from the beginning of TurnStyles.”

Volunteer efforts are reflected in shoppers’ experience of a clean, neat, boutique-style shop. Gently used items are meticulously inspected before they’re placed on the sales floor.

“I think people are amazed to see the selection we have,” said Cowdrey. “We have a lot of designer brands. You can get vintage things and new items.”

Recently, TurnStyles has developed a partnership with Walmart.

“They’ve been sending over brand-new products that they have an excess supply of,” Cowdrey explained. “We never know what we’re going to get — sometimes it’s cookware, sometimes it’s toys. It may be brand-new socks or shoes.”

Beyond finding a good bargain or a vintage treasure, shoppers who want to be good stewards of the environment know thrifting is a great way to reduce their environmental footprint. 

And those who want to be good stewards of their community appreciate that all proceeds from their purchases support the 30 programs of Catholic Charities, impacting 21 counties in northeast Kansas.

“I share with my staff and volunteers that we don’t say ‘making money,’” said Avis. “We say ‘raising money.’”

The stores also benefit those in need through the emergency assistance program.

“Families can receive vouchers from us and they can come through the store and shop,” said Avis. “We try to keep this store not looking like a thrift store to provide a dignified shopping experience for them as well.”

Last December, all the stores implemented a “roundup” at the cash register to fight poverty. The “roundup” money goes specifically to supply food to families in need.

As the stores continue to thrive, volunteers are needed more than ever.

“We rely on volunteers so much,” said Cowdrey. “It can be an individual volunteer opportunity for someone. Or if there’s a group that would like to volunteer together, the need is always there.”

The volunteer experience is gratifying, as people form bonds of friendship sorting through donations, stocking shelves and working the sales floor, or by helping out on the truck picking up donations.

“I rarely refer to any of our volunteers as volunteers,” said Holland. “They’re just family. It is so family- oriented.

“Many people call and ask if they have to be Catholic to volunteer with us,” she continued. “That answer is no. Catholics aren’t all we serve either.

“It’s for everyone.”

Many students and youth groups volunteer for service hours.

“They not only get service hours,” said Cowdrey. “They also get some retail experience that’s helpful when they apply for their first job.”

There are many benefits to volunteering but they are all overshadowed by the opportunity to be a small part of a huge effort to improve the world.

“All of those who help us here at Catholic Charities put love into action,” said Avis. “Everyone who works for TurnStyles has a real heart for the mission of wanting to see change and help the community.

“And it’s a sustainable change. We change lives.”

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