‘Next step up’ for Society of St. Vincent de Paul

Father Dan Brady, assisted by Deacon Andy Cirmo, blesses the diocese’s first St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, Tuesday, March 28, in North Chesterfield. (Photo/Brian Olszewski)

First St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in diocese opens

When the doors to the new Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) Thrift Store swing open, the mission of the society is on full display – literally.

Patrons immediately find a Mission Center to the right of the entrance with informational materials that introduce them to SVDP.

“It also serves to communicate why we’re different,” Deacon Andy Cirmo explained. “This is not just an- other thrift store. This is a thrift store that supports SVDP’s mission.”

Deacon Andy Cirmo greets the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store’s first shoppers on April 15, 2023. (Photo/Rose Morrisette)

Deacon Cirmo is spiritual advisor for both the St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church SVDP Conference and for the SVDP Richmond Council of conferences.

Shopping in the store furthers SVDP’s work.

Society members, or Vincentians, do that work, mainly through parish conferences that serve those in need – their ‘friends in need’ – as they fondly refer to them; and, in so doing, grow spiritually.

The new store is an outgrowth of SVDP’s rapid expansion in the diocese since 2016. Currently there are eight – and soon-to-be nine – conferences and a Richmond Council that manages them, headed by Executive Director Dan Kearns who previously was president of the St. Michael’s conference, one of the first in the diocese.

As council president, Kearns is now at the helm of another first … the store at 2611 Buford Road, North Chesterfield, the diocese’s inaugural thrift store.

“It’s a wonderful next step up,” he said.

Bishop Barry C. Knestout visits the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in North Chesterfield on April 4, blessing the first SVDP thrift store in the diocese and its volunteers before the grand opening day. (Photo/Dorothy Abernathy)

The thrift store, a nonprofit, is governed by a five-person “store’s committee” which reports back to the council.

“We had four reasons for opening the store,” Kearns said. “We called them ‘four legs for the table.’”

The reasons were to generate income for the work of the society in the diocese, to be accessible to those in need, to provide opportunities for volunteering, and to provide community outreach for those unfamiliar with SVDP – to be a visible presence.

Kearns believes the store will start seeing some profit by its second year, then pick up steam by the third.

“The big goal is to be able to take money and turn it back to the conferences,” he said.

Herculean task, record time

The Herculean task of opening the store was accomplished in record time.

It was less than a year ago that Kearns visited the society’s model thrift store in Avondale, Arizona. After that visit, the store was a go.

While in Arizona, he learned how to run a thrift store, then based the new store on that model.

“We follow what St. Vincent has. SVDP has best practices,” Kearns said. “They don’t do anything without a reason, and nothing is left to chance.”

The hunt for space for the store took five months, but early this year, the council secured an ideal building in an ideal location for a good price; and, by April, it was open for business.

Blessed twice

In the lead-up to its grand opening on April 15, the new store was blessed twice.

On March 28, Father Brady, St. Michael’s pastor, formally blessed the store. Kearns and Steve Lindsey, a member of the store’s committee, joined Father Dan in delivering remarks to about 50 guests, expressing gratitude for the many volunteers and donors who stepped up to make the thrift store a reality.

“Many volunteers have spent countless hours preparing the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store for its opening. The transformation of the space has been incredible,” Lindsey noted.

And from the beginning, there has been no shortage of willing donors.

Less than a year ago, one generous donor provided seed money for the new venture. The establishment of a Thrift Store Founders Campaign to raise additional money followed.

At the blessing ceremony, Lindsey, who has assisted Kearns in securing funds for the store, cited 12 of his fellow Vietnam veterans who immediately said “yes” to his request for financial support, and “helped get things started.”

WWII veteran Bob Polich, 99, hoists the American flag and the SVDP flag at the thrift store on Tuesday, March 28. (Photo/Dorothy Abernathy)

He also cited St. Michael’s Knights of Columbus Joseph P. Solari Council #11172 for its support.

The March 28 ceremony was replete with history. World War II veteran Bob Polich raised both the American flag and the SVDP’s flag over the store for the first time. Polich, who turned 99 on April 28, hoisted the flags on the store’s refurbished flagpole over the 103-year-old building that once housed a U.S. post office for 25 years, an appliance store, and most recently, a consignment shop.

The following week, on April 4, Bishop Barry C. Knestout made a special visit to the store and blessed it and its volunteers. The bishop believes the store will help grow awareness of the society and its work throughout the diocese.

Accessible, warm, welcoming

The 6,100-square foot build- ing is in a very busy location in the heart of Bon Air and is on a bus line. Because the store is open both to the public and designed for SVDP’s friends in need for shopping, Kearns believes it is important that people are able to get there by bus.

Truck for donations outside St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store in North Chesterfield. (Photo/Rose Morrisette)

It is also important to him that people who come into the store feel warm and welcome.

The walls are painted a soft SVDP blue and white. New lighting provides a bright environment. Furniture groupings are evocative of home settings. Large signs with testimonials from people who have been helped by the society over the years adorn the walls.

Clothing, furniture, household goods, and kids’ and seasonal items are among the store’s offerings. Bedroom furniture and new mattresses are available in a special section, and higher-end items are available in a store boutique.

The store operates with a top-of-the-line Point of Sale inventory control system endorsed by SVDP.

The store is volunteer-dependent, so sustaining enough volunteers for its smooth operation is critical. The hope is that volunteers will come from other conferences and from those Catholic parishes in close proximity to the store that don’t have conferences: St. Joseph, St. Edward the Confessor, and Epiphany.

Kearns thinks about opening more stores eventually, but he is cautiously optimistic.

“That would be a nice long-term goal,” he said, but he would first like to see how this one goes.

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