Serving the elderly poor mission of both entities
Thrifty Sisters, a not-for-profit thrift store in Richmond, was founded in 2012 to generate financial support for the Little Sisters of the Poor’s operation of St. Joseph’s Home. Until the sale of the home earlier this year, the Little Sisters had served in Richmond for more than 147 years. While the nuns were no longer here, Thrifty Sisters wanted to continue its work; it just needed a new beneficiary.
“We were terribly saddened by that news,” said Beverly Binns, executive director of Thrifty Sisters. “We knew we wanted to continue, and our whole Thrifty Sisters family wanted to remain true to our roots with the elderly poor and the money staying locally.”
Four months after the Little Sisters announced in October 2019 that they would be leaving, COVID arrived. The store was forced to close its doors for months. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, Saint Francis Home was grappling with the staggering effects of the pandemic.
Saint Francis Home was founded as an assisted living facility in 1973 by Bishop Walter F. Sullivan and the Catholic Diocese of Richmond. Its mission is to provide quality care at an affordable price to the most vulnerable in the community. All of its residents are low-income.
“Our care is based on the fundamental Catholic belief that human life is sacred, and every person is precious,” said Bruce Slough, the home’s executive director. “Our goal is to enhance the life and dignity of each of our residents.”
The cost of care per resident is around $3,300 per month, but 70% of residents pay only $1,350 per month, according to Slough. Because of this, Saint Francis Home seeks to raise more than $1.4 million in grants and support annually to close the gap between how much money its residents pay and the cost of running the facility.
Answer to prayers
For nearly a year, the facility’s admission process was put on hold because of the pandemic. Instead of the 135 residents Saint Francis Home is licensed to serve, they currently have only 78 residents. There is also a food shortage and staffing shortage.
“At the onset of COVID, we lost our donated food sources, which resulted in increased food costs of $10,000-$20,000 per month,” Slough said.
Staff was greatly reduced due to workers needing to stay home with their children, being wary of working in a health care setting during a pandemic and other reasons. Faced with these challenges, a partnership with Thrifty Sisters seemed like the answer to the home’s prayers. “
It became clear the missions of the two organizations were so closely aligned, I think all of us began to see that it made sense,” Slough said. “Thrifty Sisters has been supporting a charity providing for the care of the elderly poor since it began more than 100 years ago, and through this new partnership with Saint Francis, they can continue supporting that same, very real need right here in Richmond.”
Generous donors, dedicated volunteers
While Saint Francis Home was struggling to find support, Thrifty Sisters was experiencing a surge of it. Once COVID subsided and they reopened their store, not only was there an increase in donations, but there was also an increase in customers looking for bargains.
“Donations are overflowing. A lot of people decided to make a lot of different life decisions based on what the world experienced with COVID,” said Binns.
Sometimes there are so many donations that Thrifty Sisters can’t keep everything – but they try not to waste anything. Extra donations are passed on to other organizations, such as CARITAS and The King’s Daughters. “One of the things that sets us apart are the type of donations we get in,” said Binns.
“Our donors are incredibly generous. We get fine artwork, high quality clothing and beautiful jewelry.”
The store carries everything from cookware to couches, blouses to books. Some items are still sitting in unopened packages.
Thrifty Sisters has an eclectic group of volunteers, spanning ages, genders and socioeconomic backgrounds, though most volunteers are retired. There are gardeners, accountants, seamstresses, woodworkers, among others. Their unique talents are utilized in interesting and inspiring ways. One woman fixes broken sewing machines and donates them to various groups across the country, such as Native American reservations and areas ravaged by natural disasters.
“They are very invested in what they’re doing,” Binns said of the more than 50 volunteers. “They don’t just give us their time; they give us themselves. They give us everything, and that’s rare.”
Ninety-five percent of the volunteers returned to work after the store reopened.
“They care. Their action backs it up. That keeps me moving forward,” said Binns.
Binns is one of two paid employees. She started as a volunteer with a background in antiques and estate sales; her experience has been an asset in running the store.
She recognizes that there is a story behind each item that gets brought to the store. A donor may bring in something that belonged to their deceased parent. A family may bring in items because they have been forced to downsize their home due to financial troubles. What may seem like a simple act of handing over a box of clothes is really a handing over of a box of memories. There is often an emotional attachment to the donations, and donors are in return given respect, empathy and gratitude.
“It’s less about the objects. The objects are a conduit. It’s always really been about human beings and how they live. It’s about humanity,” Binns said.
Binns and Slough, and Thrifty Sisters and Saint Francis Home, are excited about the possibilities of their new partnership as they work together to help the elderly poor.
“Hopefully, someone who has been struggling with the challenge of finding an affordable assisted living option will read this article and come take a look,” said Slough. “We want to help as many people as possible get the quality care everyone deserves.”