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Kennedy Avenue has a thrift shop for friends in need

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 8:58 p.m.
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Ruth Hill, who volunteers on Thursdays, is a general sorter for the Friends Thrift Shop. As donations are received, thery are sorted into categories, checked, and priced before going out on the floor. Lillian DeDomenic | For the Murrysville Star
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
All donations are sorted by category before being checked for quality and size. Celene Kandala, left, and Rose Marie Patek sort a bin of clothing, blankets and toys. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Murrysville Star
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Frank Patek (Buckey) and Stan Eaton move furniture in the spacious furniture department. shoppers can find anything from a small table lamp to a matching sofa and couch. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Murrysville Star
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Sandy Stumpt, Stan Eaton, Celine Kandala and Leah Lange meet in the conference room to talk about new ideas and plans for Murrysville Christian Concern, its thrift shop and other services. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Murrysville Star
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Volunteer Doe Porta of Murrysville sorts bedding as it is received. Donations are checked, sorted and priced before they are put on the floor. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Murrysville Star
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Frank 'Buckey' Patek and Stan Eaton set up a dining room table and matching chairs at the Friends Thrift Shop in Export. A spacious furniture department is located on the second floor of the Kennedy Avenue building. Lillian DeDomenic | For the Murrysville Star

The Friends Thrift Shop in Export isn't a typical thrift shop.

Sure, there are racks upon racks of clothes, shelves of books and knickknacks and a packed showroom of furniture. But it's where the proceeds go that make the shop stand apart.

“If a person needs help, we'll handle it,” said Stan Eagon, the Kennedy Avenue shop's manager and only paid employee.

“We take care of people — car payments, electric bills, utilities, rent. Whatever it takes, we try to do what we can.”

The shop is run by Murrysville Christian Concern, a nonprofit group that offers help to residents of Murrysville, Export and Delmont. In the past six years, the group has given back more than $325,000 to those in need.

This holiday season, Gateway Newspapers will highlight local nonprofit organizations such as Murrysville Christian Concern to tell readers what the needs are in their communities and the challenges groups face in meeting those needs throughout the suburbs.

About 5,800 nonprofit organizations vie for support in southwestern Pennsylvania,

Formed in 1968, the Murrysville group originally was a men's group from local churches. Now, the 68 volunteers mostly are women, Eagon said.

When Celine Kandala, president of the board of directors, first joined Murrysville Christian Concern eight or nine years ago, she was astonished by the dedication of its volunteers. Many come on a set day, spending hours sorting clothing and donations with friends.

“I think all of us are here for one reason,” said Kandala, of Murrysville.

“We see the needs of the people in the community. To see the relief on the faces of the people we serve is amazing.”

While the group was formed to serve the Franklin Regional communities, it now will assist anyone who lives in a community where one of its volunteer lives, Eagon said. That includes his native Penn Township.

The “who” is one of the things that has kept Leah Lange of Washington Township coming back as a volunteer for 16 years.

“For me, the main reason I'm here is because it stays in the community,” said Lange, board vice president and secretary.

“When somebody donates to Murrysville Christian Concern, they know where it's going to go.”

Local churches and the Salvation Army refer people in need to the group, said Sandy Stumpf of Delmont, the head of social services for the group.

“There really are needy people throughout these communities, no matter what people might think,” Kandala said. “People really get the word out to connect others with Sandy.”

Stumpf evaluates each situation to see how a person can be helped. In some cases, it's paying bills for a month; in others, it's providing clothing.

The group isn't a steady source of support. Eagon said the group won't pay the same person's bills multiple times in a year.

It all is made possible by donations, both financial and of goods to sell. The thrift shop is the primary revenue stream for the organization, Lange said.

“There isn't much we don't take,” Lange said. “If we can sell it, we'll take it.”

That includes clothing that is torn or stained. Volunteers use a baler to pack unsellable clothing, and the group sells the fabric bales. Anything that is on the floor for sale has been evaluated to make sure it's in good shape and — in the case of furniture and other large items — repaired or refinished.

That's where Bucky Patek comes in. Patek, of Murrysville, does a lot of handiwork around the shop, repairing and refinishing furniture in his free time.

“There are a lot of unfortunate people who need help,” Patek said. “Life's been good to me, so I can give back to it.”

Lange said the group has been blessed over the years with volunteers and a generous community. But the need continues to grow with the economic downturn.

Because all proceeds from the store go back to those who are struggling, Lange said, there's no point in trying to haggle with a cashier. But from time to time, cashiers such as Lange will pass along some grace.

Lange was helping a woman and her young son during a recent cashier shift. The pair had picked up clothing and other items when the child spotted a toy he wanted – but the family couldn't afford. So Lange told him to take it, on the house.

Her decision was met with applause from customers in line.

“In the end, this is a charity,” Lange said.

“We're here to help people and to make their lives a little easier. That's all we try to do.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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