Community lends a hand to local thrift store to help others

Why would Wieka Koenraad be the first to raise her hand when members of St. Monica's Catholic Church were asked to start a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Buford? After all, she'd never set foot in a thrift store. In fact, her father had owned a high-end retail store and she grew up wearing only the best.

Koenraad, whose testimony is recorded in Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation Speaks," answered this way:

"I'm originally from Holland and lived through World War II. Americans and their allies liberated Holland. If that would not have happened, I would not be alive. My family was very fortunate to immigrate to the United States in 1977. This country has been very good to us. We are proud to call ourselves Americans. To give something back is what I want to do. I want to put my shoulders under this store as a thank you to the United States."

With no business experience whatsoever, Koenraad turned to the only way she knew to accomplish her goal: prayer.

"God has his hand in this place. You can feel it," Koenraad said. "We prayed for guidance. We prayed for volunteers. We have 50 plus regular volunteers."

Those volunteers, ranging in age from their mid-teens to their mid-80s, include engineers, retired military officers, truck drivers and a couple of stay-at-home moms who had "shopped till they dropped" and were looking for something more meaningful to do.

"Len and Pat Tate, who owned Tate Air Conditioning, retired and have become a vital part of our store," Koenraad said, "and some volunteers are unemployed and just want to stay connected with life."

Sheila Gove, who has been jobless since January said, "When you stay at home you just get so inside your head, but something like this becomes part of your life and you become family."

"Everyone is here because they want to be," Koenraad said. "That is what makes this so special."

The thrift store was so successful in its first year that the Koenraads were invited to a Southeastern conference to teach others how to open a thrift store.

The demands on the ministry, whose slogan is "Help us help others" continue to grow. "When we first started we were getting 100 calls a month. Now we get 100 calls a week," Hans said.

But the number of those helping them to help continues to grow as well. After 18 months of community support, the store doubled in size and now sells furniture, which exponentially increases SVDP's ability to help those in need. And for the grand opening of this new addition Saturday, for every $5 in store purchases, Johnny's New York Style Pizza on Peachtree Industrial Boulevard will offer a free slice of pizza, up to four slices. For any additional pizza purchased, proceeds will go to SVDP. All are invited to help themselves.

Susan Larson is a Lilburn resident. E-mail her at susanlarson4@yahoo.com.

SideBar: If you go

· St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store

· 1433 Buford Highway

· Store hours 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

· Pizza available 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

· Info: 770-271-1764