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Charitable thrift store founder helps those in need

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By Robert Villanueva

A few years ago, when the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Elizabethtown did not have a thrift store, Judy Banks suggested one be established.

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It was in the fall of 2011 when Banks, who has volunteered for the organization for more than six years, said she told organization members she hoped her proposal would be turned down.

“Of course, they wanted to do this,” Banks said.

Fundraising began with appeals for donations of $1,000. Banks wanted to model the Elizabethtown thrift store after an upscale one she had seen.

“I knew nothing about retail,” she said. “I didn’t know how much money I needed.”

In about a month, Banks said, the fundraising efforts netted about $40,000. With help from individuals and organizations, such as Catholic Charities of Louisville, which signed the lease for the building, things took shape.

In June 2012, the St. Vincent de Paul Store opened at 512 N. Mulberry Street in Elizabethtown.

“It took about a year to put everything together,” Banks said.

When it began, members were told the store wouldn’t make money for the first three years. But the store has managed to defy that prediction.

The store sells clothing, furniture, electronics and books, among other things. Many items are donated, but the store also sells on consignment.

“One hundred percent of our profit goes to the poor,” Banks said.

Although the St. Vincent de Paul Society was established in Elizabethtown through St. James Catholic Church some 25 years ago, the store is not a direct ministry of the church. The store is operated by St. James parishioners.

For Banks, it’s all about helping those in need. She said the St. Vincent de Paul Store is like a beacon to those coming into Elizabethtown off the interstate looking for assistance. For that reason, the store location is important, she said.

“You’ve got to go to the poor,” Banks said.

One of the biggest challenges for the store, she said, is maintaining inventory. They need items to sell.

Additionally, the store could use more volunteers, she said. About 40 volunteers work at the store.

“Most volunteers work four hours every other week,” Banks said. “Of course they are welcome to work more if they choose.”

The primary responsibility of store volunteers is waiting on customers. Other volunteer duties might include pricing and cleaning products.

Banks volunteers at the store whenever needed, and usually can be found there two afternoons a week.

Service is not new to Banks.

A former teacher of 27 years, Banks was a grant writer for Hardin County Habitat for Humanity before joining St. Vincent de Paul.

When she first started as a member of St. Vincent de Paul she helped provide rent, utility and food assistance to those in need. Members worked out of their homes at the time, she said.

Banks also is on the board of directors of St. Vincent de Paul and has been a past president.

“Being president of an organization, anymore you take your turn,” she explained.

Dan Petry, St. Vincent de Paul Store manager, credited Banks with being “the main thrust to get this started.”

Petry said he jokes Banks did not realize all the work that would be involved in establishing the store. She works hard at trying to make improvements, he said.

“She’s always coming up with something,” Petry said.

Robert Villanueva can be reached at 270-505-1743 or rvillanueva@thenewsenterprise.com.

MORE ABOUT JUDY BANKS

  • City of birth: Lebanon
  • Family: Husband of 50 years, Russell, two adult children and five grandsons
  • Favorite music: Yanni
  • Favorite books/author: Mysteries, particularly Mary Higgins Clark
  • Hobbies: She plays golf and is an “avid” duplicate bridge player.

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