BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) - Minutes before closing time there are still people streaming through the Bargain Box, a small secondhand shop just south of Highway 136 at 117 S. Fifth St. in downtown Beatrice. The store contains a more than modest selection of clothes for men, women and children, as well as housewares, decorations, toys, books, videos, jewelry and various other odds and ends, with three women working the counter.
The women are not employees. They are three of a group of around 50 volunteers that makes up The Children's Guild, a 53-year-old nonprofit group that has been running the Bargain Box since the 1990s.
"Everything we have is from donations," said Chrissy Garton, publicity manager for the Children's Guild. "Everything is donated from, well, a little bit of everybody comes in here.
"People will bring single items and pickup truck loads of stuff."
The Beatrice Daily Sun reports (http://bit.ly/LqPw9p ) the Bargain Box is a nonprofit entity. After reasonable rent and overhead costs, every penny of profit the store makes is donated to the Beatrice branch of MOSAIC, an organization devoted to supporting people with intellectual disabilities.
"MOSAIC is a nationwide organization," Garton said. "Beatrice's branch is the only one in the country that has something like us helping them out."
In this regard, the Bargain Box is unique in its setup and mission, and also singularly successful at meeting its goal of aiding MOSAIC and the people is supports.
"Last year we gave them $25,000," Garton said. "This year we're on track to do even more."
Garton says MOSAIC uses the money raised by the Bargain Box for special projects it would otherwise not be able to fit in the budget. This year there is talk of using the money to purchase new couches and carpeting for some of the organization's rooms. Last year the money was used to purchase a lift for a therapy pool to help people with impaired mobility in and out of the water.
The key to the Bargain Box's success at fundraising is dedication, from both the volunteers of the Children's Guild, and from members of the community who donate and shop at the store whenever it is open, which is Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
"There's a guy that's here every Saturday morning, as soon as we open," Garton said. "He's an antiques collector. He hangs our 'open' flag for us."
Garton says people like donating items to the Bargain Box because they know their items are going to support a good cause. They like shopping there for the same reason, but also because the Bargain Box volunteers are constantly updating their stock, on the lookout for high-quality goods.
"Our volunteers are required to come in and do a sorting shift at least once a month," Garton said. "There's constantly someone in the sorting room; there's constantly somebody putting new stuff out.
"I know we have some of the best quality stuff."
Each section of the store has its own department head, who makes sure the selection never gets stale.
"They have me in the kids' department because I, well, have kids," Garton said.
Whatever doesn't get sold doesn't go to waste, though. Every item that doesn't make the store shelves or doesn't sell once it gets there is donated to the Orphan Grain Train, an international orphan aid organization. The Orphan Grain Train uses the items in various ways, either repurposing them, selling them to fund its work, or selling old clothing by the pound as scrap fabric to be made into blankets in the Third World.
Garton, 33, is currently the youngest volunteer of the Children's Guild. The majority of members are retired and older women. Garton says the median age is probably 65, with the oldest volunteers in their 90s.
"These ladies are amazing," Garton said. "They're always in here volunteering their time, even when they don't have to."
The volunteer work helps keep the members active, and the store's popularity keeps them well acquainted with people around town.
"The best part is meeting people," said Children's Guild volunteer Vivian Schuster.
To be a member of the Children's Guild, one must be nominated by a current member. The organization wants to make sure it can trust its volunteers around the cash and merchandise of the Bargain Box. This should not discourage anyone interested in volunteering, however. The organization is especially interested in hiring more young volunteers.
"It's hard to get younger volunteers," Garton said. "We do have a requirement of 50 hours a year of work from all members, but you can easily do 50 hours in a whole year."
Garton encourages anyone who might be interested to contact someone in the Children's Guild, or check out the Bargain Box's Facebook page for more information (search: BargainBoxThriftStore).
"Anyone interested can talk to anyone who's in the Children's Guild," Garton said. "These ladies know everyone; they'll probably know you."
Information from: Beatrice Sun, http://www.beatricedailysun.com