St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop happy to help after Sandy

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OCEAN CITY — The St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop has been a busy place since opening its doors two years ago. Post-Hurricane Sandy, the need has never been greater.

“We’re as busy as we can be,” said Susan Zerbo, who, along with Kathy Tuso and other volunteers, works to keep up with the demand.

Located in a trailer next to the former St. Augustine Regional School, between 13th and 14th streets on Asbury Avenue, the thrift shop has expanded its efforts in many directions since Sandy flooded the island last October.

Post-Sandy, the gymnasium at St. Augustine has been utilized as a storage center for the Ecumenical Food Cupboard and Clothes Closet, as well as a collection spot for furnishings and household goods for flood victims. Thanks to the efforts of the community, just about anything a displaced family might be without can probably be found at the thrift shop.

“There are so many generous people out there,” Zerbo said. “It blows you away. They’ve called from Virginia and Pennsylvania, from all over, wanting to help. People are so, so generous; it’s been unbelievable.

“We have a ton of furniture,” she said. “People can’t do enough to help us. The demand has been incredible, and fortunately, people keep giving.”

Furnishings are just part of what the thrift shop supplies.

“A lot of people haven’t found a place yet, and we’re still trying to locate places for people to stay,” she said.

The two have divvied up the duties as they expanded their services, Zerbo on thrift shop and Tuso on housing.

“We are trying to help everyone as best we can,” Zerbo said. “We are expecting a huge need this spring as people start to find permanent housing. They’ve lost everything, so we think they’ll be looking for furniture and a lot of other things as they move into a long-term situation.”

In addition to donations, the thrift shop is looking for a few strong volunteers to help move furniture as needed.

“We need some trucks and some strong guys with a few minutes to spare, even if it’s just a one-shot deal,” she said. “We have the furniture, but without a truck and someone to help us, we have trouble helping people.”

The thrift shop is part of St. Damien Parish in Ocean City. When St. Augustine Regional School closed several years ago, and it looked as though the school’s mission to help the needy might shut down with it, Zerbo and Tuso, who had worked together for years with the St. Augustine’s PTA, formed the thrift shop.

“The school may have closed, but the need did not disappear,” Zerbo said.

Particularly after the hurricane, the dream of sharing the community’s blessings continues, Zerbo said.

The thrift shop was set up so that people would donate household items and clothing to be sold to members of the community at bargain prices. The money raised went back to the community, as the thrift shop helped those in need. People who came in with donations often left with a little something, so the coffers were continuously filled.

The storm, Zerbo said, turned the process upside down a bit.

“We’re finding, because more people are able to go to the Food Cupboard and Clothes Closet, we’re not selling anything right now,” she said. “People reached out to St. Damien’s Parish from all over and we’ve had so many donations, so we’ve been helping people with what they need.

“At Christmas, we were able to sell some Christmas items. People lost their decorations in the storm and they came in and bought what we had, so we were able to make a little bit of money that way,” she said. “We’re chugging along. We could use more items, any donations are always appreciated.”

The thrift shop features a little bit of everything. From plates and silverware to mirrors, lamps and other household goods, it’s a potpourri. Zerbo said some donations include brand new items. “We have new things all the time, it’s pretty neat,” she said.

“When you donate, you help, and when you leave with something you purchased, you help. Plus, you can pick up a lot of nice things without spending a lot of money,” Zerbo said. “It pays to come in and see what we have!”

The thrift shop is open on Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

St. Vincent de Paul volunteers help more than 12 million people each year; Zerbo said she, Tuso and the rest of the volunteers are happy to do their part.

“I’ve been blessed, Kathy has been blessed, we want to help others,” said Zerbo. “This is what we like to do with our time. It makes you feel good to help. I really enjoy being here.”

Zerbo said needs run the gamut. When the phone rings she said it could be almost anything. St. Vincent de Paul, she said, goes beyond monetary help. The idea is to offer a helping hand with a big heart.

“We don’t want anyone to feel that they are alone,” Zerbo said. “Maybe their children are sick, maybe they need shoes, and they just don’t have the money.

“Maybe they have nowhere else to turn. What we do is help them, and we use the proceeds from the thrift shop to do that.

“You never know what tomorrow brings, perhaps someone loses their job, we hear of all kinds of bad things. Tragedy strikes and people are suddenly in need. It feels so good to be able to help. That’s why we’re here.”

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