Growing in size and stature

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The Clothes Less Traveled doubled in size this year and will have their “official” grand opening of the expansion on Saturday. Recently, the heads of just a few of the many local organizations that benefit from grants that the thrift store awards, as well as some volunteers, met with Joan Velsmid, President of the Clothes Less Traveled Board of Directors and store manager Jennie Loper to talk about the store and the impact on the organizations and the community.

The Clothes Less Traveled Thrift Shop is a 501(c) 3 corporation that provides an environment to re-sell gently used household goods, a place for people to volunteer and perform community service and to distribute profits, after expenses are paid and reserves are met, to organizations in the community through grants.

“The grants we receive provide wonderful assistance for our summer school programs and general operations,” said Maries Sams, Administrative Director of The Joseph Sams School. “General operation grants are hard to find and especially tough in this economy.”

There is a grant application on The Clothes Less Traveled web site (clotheslesstraveled.org) and there are grants that are awarded on an annual and semi-annual basis. The various organizations represented at the recent interview all agreed that they would not be able to do what they do in the community without the assistance that The Clothes Less Traveled grants provide.

“We know we can help more patients because of the annual grant we receive,” said Janet Beebe, President/Director of the Breast Cancer Survivor’s Network.

“Clothes Less Traveled stepped up and helped some programs that were vulnerable, like Meals on Wheels,” said Debbie Britt, Executive Director of Fayette Senior Services. “It’s not just funding, it’s a relationship.”

Beebe, Britt and Sams each told of how they make sure that the people associated with their organizations know how important Clothes Less Traveled is to what they do and are encouraged to help them out any way they can. Whether this is accomplished through shopping at the store or donating items, the message has been received.

Volunteer George Blumberg stated that many times when he is in the back accepting donations, people dropping off items ask if the store still helps out various organizations.

The Joseph Sams School wanted to pay back the kindness they received from The Clothes Less Traveled and recently held a book drive to help stock the store’s new book section. The students and staff collected close to 800 books. The initiative was headed up by Zach Stutts, a teacher at the school, who wanted to make sure that the school gave back to organizations that impacted the school.

The Clothes Less Traveled has made an impact on area residents since opening their doors in a small space on Huddleston Road in Peachtree City in 1997. In the 15 years since, the store has gone from that 1,000 square foot space to one that is now 20,000 square feet.

“The expansion is proof that you met a need in the community during hard times,” said Britt.

Not only has the store expanded in physical size and impact among community organizations, but the number of volunteers donating time to the store has grown exponentially. There are 220 people who volunteer regularly every month, but there are also close to 100 realtors and 100 people doing community service in addition to 50 or so drop ins each month as well.

“We have 400-450 people volunteer each month and we could still use more,” said Velsmid.

Among the benefits volunteers receive are an invitation to an annual Volunteer Appreciation Dinner, tokens of appreciation given periodically for recognition of excellent service, nametags and uniform apparel and scholarships available for high school seniors. Twice a year volunteers can shop at 50 percent off and they also receive a card honoring their birthday that can be used to get 50 percent off one item.

Wendy Binfield, a local hygenist, started volunteering at The Clothes Less Traveled almost eight years ago.

“I love to shop and I knew I could volunteer one shift a month,” Binfield said. “I really enjoy it and I’ve been doing it ever since. It’s been a pleasure to see the store grow and grow and grow.”

Blumberg started volunteering last year and quickly began to volunteer three and four days a week.

“They called and asked how many hours I could do and I asked how many hours do you need,” Blumberg said. “I saw the need they had and the organizations that benefitted. I have fun here.”

Blumberg stated that the store is a place where the community can come together and interact with others, not just buy something.

“Goodness and kindness live here,” Binfield added.

The Clothes Less Traveled sees shoppers come from all over the area, but found that 98 percent of those making donations come from Fayette County. The fact that the money stays in the area and goes to local organizations is a big deal among those who donate and the store is putting out signs around the shopping area telling shoppers which organizations receive grants.

In addition to always needing more volunteers, the store’s other greatest need is donated clothing. Clothing sales make up 50 percent of The Clothes Less Traveled’s business and the quality of the donations is just another thing that sets them apart from other thrift shops.

“We are blessed to be in this community,” said Sams, who discussed how giving people in the area are. “There is a very giving spirit here.”

The others echoed her statement.

“Each of our organizations would do something for the other groups if it was needed,” Britt added. “It’s not competitive, we’re kindred spirits.”

“Your organizations are what motivates our volunteers and staff,” Loper said.

The expansion, which went very smoothly, is complete, and the staff at The Clothes Less Traveled is excited to show it off. If you haven’t been by the store lately, Saturday’s grand reopening would be a great time to get reacquainted.

The Clothes Less Traveled is located at 459 Georgia Hwy 74 South in Peachtree City and is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and until 7 p.m. on Thursdays. Phone 770-486-8517 or visit clotheslesstraveled.org for more information.