American Rescue Workers open new facility, bring back clothing bins

KAREN VIBERT-KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette Melody Bartlett, store manager; Jean Myers, retail store director; Dick Wienecke. executive advisory board; Carol Savoy, building owner; Jason Fischer, executive advisory board and Lisa Ross, sales associate; cut the ribbon at the American Rescue Workers Thrift store at125 Academy Street in Hughesville. The store will hold it's grand opening on Saturday Sept. 1st.

The American Rescue Workers organization is opening its ninth facility — a new retail store location at 125 W. Academy St., Hughesville — at 9 a.m. today.

They have also added 41 new clothing collection bins, primarily throughout Lycoming County and surrounding areas, within the last two weeks.

“They are in parking lots of businesses that are sympathetic to our cause and want to help with the collection of clothing,” said Dawn Astin, business administrator. “Our most recent addition was the New Covenant Church of Christ on the corner of Third and Basin Streets.”

The bins are blue with the American Rescue Workers’ label and saying on them, “Repurposing clothing, shoes and lives.”

“The clothes are important and the shoes are important, but all of it goes for the common goal of providing prevention services for individuals who are hungry and need help in their lives to find redirection and self sufficiency,” Astin said.

The opening of the new store is to help with operational funds.

“Our advisory board recommended last year that we might want to consider opening another retail location to subsidize some of the expenses with trucking and other expenses,” Astin said. “The recycling and retail (sale) of donated items provides 83 percent of our operational funds. Those funds operate three homeless shelters here in the city, also other hunger and homelesneess prevention programs.”

She said stores like the Hughesville location are exactly what keeps the American Rescue Workers operating.

“Those funds are used to help provide case management. While we also use clothing and furniture donations to give to individuals that are in emergency situations, we gift thousands of dollars of clothing and thousands in furnishings away every year,” she said. “Things like dressers, beds and more. We just in the last month helped a family that had eight children that needed bedding.”

She said other funding sources have not been reliable.

“There was a private funding stream that we utilized down through the years that we assisted the community with — an emergency rental and utility assistance,” she said. “That was $120,000 per year, but that was cut this year to $40,000. That was a real significant funding hit.”

Other funds vary, which can make it difficult when budgeting for expenses.

“There have been some government funds that have been a little late coming,” she said. “Those are not always promised. Sometimes you get the full amount, other times you don’t.”

Astin said the reliance of funds through selling used items in the agency’s stores is so strong that it brought back the bins in order to help collect clothing.

“This is a practice that American Rescue Workers had from the 1960s, this way of collecting used clothing,” she said. “We ended it back in the 2000s as the public used it for a dumping ground and to eliminate their trash costs. We took them out and did away with that method of collection to help defray the costs of trash removal.”

She said that competition, particularly of those trying to sell used clothing for profit, has pushed them to bring back the bins.

“With the influx of for-profits that are using this as a method of collecting clothing donations, we soon realized we needed to compete with that,” she said. “It’s so convenient for the donor when they’re riding by a facility to be able to use a bin.”

American Rescue Workers is a nonprofit organization.

“Used clothing is very lucrative and has been for nonprofits for many years. Some of our buyers and suppliers have found that’s lucrative for profit companies also,” she said. “We thought that it would be a way to reclaim some contributions that we could bring back into the American Rescue Workers and opening another thrift store location. Some of these items would be used to be sold in the new location to help provide the services to increase our salvage sale.”

She said without the bins, the organization had been doing many home pick-ups and often had trucks out in certain locations for temporary drop-off placement. They have been able to control what they accepted in those instances, but, because they were temporary, it was not as easy for donors to go by any time to donate.

Using the bins again means they cannot control what people put into the bins.

“There’s a level of trust you put in your community residence when you reintroduce that method again. You’re always going to have people that abuse that method, but we’re hoping that by providing and continuing to provide services that we do here in the community, people will respect that and use the bins for the purpose they’re intended for,” she said.

In addition to the new Hughesville store, the American Rescue Workers has locations in Jersey Shore, Lock Haven, Canton, Milton, Mifflinburg, Montoursville and two locations in Williamsport.

Astin said there are no plans to open any other locations.