- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

SALINA, Kan. (AP) - Gwen Reese remembers a time, just a few decades ago, when battered and abused women didn’t have a lot of places to turn for help.

If the police were called about a domestic violence situation, she said, chances are they wouldn’t take any action at all, The Salina Journal (https://bit.ly/15CKY9R).

“They’d come out, they’d say, ‘cool it’ and then leave the woman in that situation,” Reese said. “Then she would be blamed for everything that happened and it would start all over again.”

If a woman did choose to leave an abusive situation, she’d often leave at the spur of the moment, sometimes in the middle of the night with children in tow. That is, if they didn’t leave on a stretcher or worse.

That’s why Reese is happy to do her part to help victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault as a volunteer at the Bargain Basket Thrift Store.

Bargain Basket was opened in 2003 by DVACK, the Domestic Violence Association of Central Kansas. The store’s inventory consists of gently used clothing items and other accessories, all donated by community members, that DVACK clients and their children can have free of charge.

“A lot of times women come to us with nothing but the clothes on their backs and with no means to buy anything,” said Andrea Quill, DVACK executive director. “We send them to the store to get the clothes they need for themselves and their children. Without the store, they might be sorting through plastic bags of clothes in our basement, which is what they used to do.”

Bargain Basket also is open to the public. Clothing and other items are marked with low, competitive prices, with all proceeds going directly to help victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, Quill said.

“We’re bound by confidentiality,” she said. “You won’t know, by who is in here, who is a client and who is a customer off the street.”

The store is staffed entirely by volunteers, Quill said, which consists of a combination of community members, special education students from the Salina School District and members of the Senior Community Service Employment Program, or SER.

“Nothing we make here goes to salaries,” she said. “If people know that every dime they spend here will go to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, they’ll feel good about shopping here.”

Reese has worked at Bargain Basket for three years through the Senior Community Service program, an organization that trains and secures employment for Kansans 55 years and older. The organization pays Reese to work up to 20 hours a week at the store. She receives no salary from DVACK.

Reese said her job is to sort through clothes, price them and if necessary, “wash and steam them.”

When DVACK clients come to the store and bring the items they want to the front counter, volunteers will take the price tags off and put them in an envelope to turn in with the day’s receipts, she said.

“The vast majority are very grateful for DVACK and this store,” she said. “They’re surprised to see such good-quality clothing we have here.”

The store aims to carry high-end items, including designer jeans and shoes, brand-name dresses, baby and children’s clothing, a selection of men’s clothing, Coach brand handbags and other purses, jewelry items and a small amount of toys and seasonal merchandise.

“Everything is marked, steam cleaned, separated by size and color coordinated,” said Dawn Parrish, volunteer coordinator at DVACK and supervisor of the Bargain Basket. “Some women have left home in a hurry and many not have clothes for a job interview, so we find out who’s coming here and what they need.”

Donations are accepted during store houses, Parrish said. About anything of good quality, except furniture, is accepted.

Another thing that sets the store apart from other retail establishments, Quill said, is its front window. Instead of focusing on clothing displays, the window is used to display information and raise awareness for important women’s issues such as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, and National Stalking Awareness Month in January.

“We want to do whatever we can to raise awareness of these issues,” Quill said.

Parrish said the store couldn’t have stayed in operation so long and so successfully without the help of volunteers.

“We’re always in need of more volunteers, just to maintain our hours,” she said.

Rose Dubbs is an Senior Community Service worker who started at the Bargain Basket in 2012. The Salina senior said she does a little bit of everything at the store, from marking items to running the cash register

“I’m a jack of all trades and master of none,” she said with a laugh. “I really like the interaction here with the people, and I think it’s a real worthy cause. It fulfills me.”

As a community volunteer, Salinan Joan Morton said she has worked at Bargain Basket for about two months, two afternoons a week.

“I saw they needed help and was told it was a good place to volunteer,” she said.

Morton said it has turned out to be much more than an ordinary retail job.

“I feel like it’s a really good program,” she said. “I see clients come in and leave with the essentials they need. This store is needed here. I’m happy to help any way I can.”

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Information from: The Salina (Kan.) Journal, https://www.salina.com


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