Society's nine Metro Detroit stores help down-on-their-luck customers furnish homes — and a whole lot more

METRO DETROIT — People donate clothing and household items to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for many reasons. 

Some are downsizing to a smaller home. Others, inspired by the recent Netflix series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, want to free themselves of clutter. Still other donators, who are Catholic, feel loyal to St. Vincent de Paul because they know it is a Catholic organization. 

Whatever the reason, when someone drops of a donation to one of St. Vincent de Paul’s nine thrift stores in southeast Michigan, their contribution brings hope and assistance to people in the form of food and clothing and in dozens of other avenues: rent, furniture, energy assistance, life skills programs, summer camp for children and more.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is a Catholic lay organization established in 1884 in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Last year, it provided services to more than 300,000 people in southeast Michigan. The Society maintains a four-star rating — the highest possible — on Charity Navigator, an independent charity evaluator of financial health, accountability and transparency.

A store worker sorts through the donations at St. Vincent de Paul's Gratiot thrift store in Detroit. Donations are up 20 percent over the past six months in Metro Detroit, but gifts are always needed. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Jillanne Shafto-Earl, 64, donates to St. Vincent de Paul and wouldn’t consider giving anywhere else. Two years ago, after working in furniture sales and retail for 35 years, she experienced hardship and found herself homeless. She lived with friends and in her car for two months. Then one day, she drove to the nearest Catholic parish and asked for help.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d find myself homeless,” Shafto-Earl told Detroit Catholic. “I never knew anything about St. Vincent de Paul before, but I was desperate.”

Shortly after she walked into the parish office, with St. Vincent de Paul’s assistance, they settled her into a room at a hotel, paid for her to have much-needed dental work done, and gave her food and other assistance. Now she is living in a home again, furnished by items she found at St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores. 

“They bridged the gap until I could get back on my feet and rebuild my life,” Shafto-Earl said. “The best part is that they showed me compassion when I needed it.”

A woman shops for clothing inside the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit. (Photos by Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)
Besides clothing and furniture, thrift stores also sell household furnishing items.

Now Shafto-Earl visits the thrift store as a customer, finding lamps and antique furniture for a few dollars, then transforming them into pieces she loves. If she doesn’t like the way something turns out, she donates it back to St. Vincent de Paul for someone else to enjoy. She enjoys visiting the society's Waterford store not only for the treasures she might find, but also for the friendships she has found.

“The people who work there are a really special group. They’re always smiling and work as such a great team. They’re so good to all their customers, treating everyone with respect,” Shafto-Earl said. “I tell people this is a happy story, not a sad one. They have become like family to me, and I will always be loyal to St. Vincent de Paul because of it.”

Many who donate to St. Vincent de Paul also shop at the thrift stores. Some will visit once a week or more to see what’s new and visit with the employees and other customers. 

St. Vincent de Paul's Detroit development director, Keith Koppmeier, says donations have been up 20% over the last six months, but more donations are always needed.

“We want to make sure our stores are stocked with good quality items so that our customers can shop with dignity,” Koppmeier said. “We treat everyone with compassion, dignity and respect; it’s one of our core values.”

A volunteer empties a bin for donations of clothing and shoes at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul's Gratiot Avenue thrift store in northwest Detroit. (Valaurian Waller | Detroit Catholic)

Koppmeier would like people to see St. Vincent de Paul as more than a chain of thrift stores. 

“We like to say that this is today’s St. Vincent de Paul,” Koppmeier said. “People think of us as thrift stores, but we do so much more. We see the face of Jesus in the people we serve, and hopefully they see Him in us. We’re always thinking of new ways we can serve and what’s next for us.”

Jennifer Butler, manager of the Waterford thrift store, is proud to work for St. Vincent de Paul, serving Shafto-Earl and others with similar stories. When Detroit Catholic visited her store on a Saturday, she knew most customers by name.

“There aren’t many organizations who can say they give back to the local community as much as we do,” Butler said. “We always do whatever we can to help.”

Help the Society of St. Vincent de Paul

To learn more about the many ways the Society of St. Vincent de Paul serves the others, go to Donations are needed; check the website for dropbox locations and thrift store drop-off hours.