Nancy Mecklenburg of Sycamore describes herself as “a professional volunteer.”
She has been a volunteer with The Country Store Thrift Shop, 659 E. Lincoln Highway in DeKalb, for more than 45 years. She has served on the Board of Directors for the Family Service Agency and the FSA Foundation Board. She now acts as the store’s volunteer scheduler, and her husband Earl is the store’s treasurer. Other volunteering committees she’s has been a part of include her church, Sycamore schools and Music Boosters, DeKalb County CourtWatch and the hospital.
Unlike other thrift shops, The Country Store Thrift Shop is run by volunteers and all of its revenue benefits the Family Service Agency’s Senior Services program. The program offers activities for community seniors at five locations in DeKalb County. The shop has between 70 and 80 volunteers and raises an average of $40,000 a year for FSA.
The shop’s hours are 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays. Through December, the shop will be open 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays. Donations are accepted during business hours, but the shop cannot accept donations of electronic items or very large items, such as furniture. To volunteer, stop by the store or call 815-756-2378 or 815-758-8616.
Mecklenburg met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss the thrift shop, how its revenue helps the community and some of the unique items the shop has sold through the years.
Milton: In your own words, how would you describe The Country Store Thrift Shop?
Mecklenburg: It has always been a thrift shop run by volunteers. The money we raise helps the Family Service Agency’s Senior Services program. We are always getting new items, so the store is always changing.
Milton: Why do you volunteer at the thrift shop?
Mecklenburg: I grew up volunteering. When my kids were in school, my husband Earl and I helped with the Sycamore Sports Boosters. We also volunteer at church. I like volunteering at the thrift shop because I can fit it into my schedule.
Milton: What is your favorite aspect of the store?
Mecklenburg: I think one of my favorite things of the store is all the people I’ve met through volunteering there through the years. I love the social aspect of the store. I also love all of the items. Every item is like finding a treasure. You just don’t know what you’re going to find.
Milton: Does the store help other organizations?
Mecklenburg: Family Service Agency is not the only organization we have helped through the years. If Hope Haven knew of a person that needed some help, the person would fill out a form and we would give them up to $20 in merchandise. We also help people from Safe Passage. For instance, if they were going to a job interview, they would need interview-appropriate clothes. They would fill out a form and pick out some clothes or we would find items in their size for them. We often donate items to Tails [Humane Society]. At the end of the season, we send items to Chicago, to Methodist group churches. They used to come out on their own and pick up items, but now we send the items to them. Nothing that comes in is ever wasted. If we can’t use or sell the item, we find a place for it.
Milton: What are some of the more unusual or unique items that were donated?
Mecklenburg: We had a few collections, including a collection of Barbie and Ken dolls and a lighter collection. I remember we also received a pair of shoes, one shoe one size, the other another size. One year, after the Methodist church’s sale, we were able to pick out a few items that we thought were sale-able. There was a painting that had a $20 sticker on it. If you looked closely at the painting, it had two figures on it, present and past. A volunteer helped sell that painting for $250. Items worth that much are unusual. A few of our volunteers are knowledgeable about where to look online for items’ values.
Milton: How would you describe the items in the store?
Mecklenburg: Everything at the store is very affordable, even our quality, name-brand clothes and purses. The store’s a great place for college students, and young children can also find items to purchase because we have many things priced $1 or less. Right now, we have an abundance of Christmas items. We are constantly adding and changing what’s in the store. We take in all gently used donations, but we cannot take electronics or big furniture.
Milton: What is one item at the store you will never forget?
Mecklenburg: Once, a lady was moving from DeKalb and wanted our help to sort some of the stuff to take to the store. She lost her grandmother’s ring in the process. We looked through all the bags, even the ones we took out to the garbage. We couldn’t find it anywhere. Later, I was looking through a black plastic bag full of records, and there was the ring, at the bottom of the bag. She was so grateful to have gotten the ring back and thankful it wasn’t lost forever.
Milton: Does the store need volunteers?
Mecklenburg: We are always looking for volunteers. To volunteer, all you need is three hours twice a month. It’s a good place to get to know others if you’re just moving to town. You can widen your contacts and make friends.