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Panel discusses role of thrift stores in social justice

| Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Justice Education Program at Saint Mary’s kicked off a semester-long series about materialism, justice and sustainability in a panel discussion Wednesday about thrift store shopping.

Anne Watson, executive director of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Joseph County, explained how thrift stores aim to work towards social justice by putting the needs of people first. Watson said the St. Joseph County stores put the needs of the poor before their own and have an open door policy, highlighting two values of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

“The main core of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society is to provide for the emergency needs of people who ask us,” Watson said. “We provide food through home visits through a food pantry. We provide clothing through furniture.”

Watson said thrift store shopping could have an important economical impact in St. Joseph County.

“Shopping really makes a difference,” she said. “By shopping at our stores, you are helping the local economy, you are looking for the well-being of laborers right here and you can have the satisfaction in knowing that 100 percent of our revenue stays here.”

Bianca Howard, a former Goodwill employee, said Goodwill helped her to turn her life around after facing hardships in her life that limited her job search.

“I never got that type of help,” Howard said. “They open doors for people.”

For their employees, Goodwill emphasizes skill building, such as learning to create resumes, Howard said.

President and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Michiana, Inc. Debie Coble said shopping in thrift stores is important because so many lives can be impacted by thrift shopping and making contributions.

“At Goodwill, our motto this year is donate, shop, change a life,” she said.

Coble said grants made it possible for Goodwill Industries of Michiana to initiate programs that would help individuals who had been involved in crimes, specifically prior sex offenders.

“The Second Chance Program helps individuals gain valuable work experience while working with [potential] employers to help expel myths,” Coble said. “We started in 2010, and now this program serves just under 400 sex offenders per year. The money [for the program] comes from thrift shops.”

Interim coordinator of the Justice Education Program Adrienne Lyles-Chockley said thrift store shopping could be a way to develop virtues, gratitude and integrity.

She said the community service she did while attending law school and her continued dedication to the community inspired her to support and make purchases at thrift stores.

“Thrift stores can also be used in creating social justice as a way of sustainability,” Chockley said. “What you spend your time and money on demonstrates what you value.”

She said making purchases and donations to thrift stores creates opportunities for serving others.

“Thrift store shopping is an opportunity for integrity in practicing what you preach,” Chockley said. “If you are committed in serving the poor, thrift store shopping is a way to be in community with them.”

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