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On a recent rainy Friday morning, the Kiwanis Thrift Stop in Black Mountain was warm with its welcoming and friendly atmosphere. Volunteers chatted as they sorted and tagged clothes. Customers said hello to one another and commented about finds in the store. Folks came and went as they dropped off donated items for the store to sell.

“I had to get out of the house today, and I always love to find a bargain,” one customer exclaimed.

One might not associate a sense of “community” with a store. But it exists at the thrift shop.

The Kiwanis Thrift Shop, an important fundraising component of the Black Mountain-Swannanoa Kiwanis Club, holds a unique spot in Black Mountain - part social, part charitable. Located at 503 W. State St., the store has generated more than $1 million, all of it put back into the community since its inception in 1978.

Nancy Ellington, who volunteers at the shop weekly, has a passion for helping meet the needs of kids and schools.

“Since I can’t win the lottery, this seems like the next best thing I can to do be involved in making a difference in this community,” she said. A Tuesday afternoon volunteer for three years now, she loves her work there. She misses being there when she can’t make it.

When she was away for medical reasons, “everyone was so concerned and welcomed me back graciously,” she said. Ellington got involved because of the encouragement of two friends she exercises with at Cheshire Fitness.

Folks become involved in the Kiwanis Thrift Store for various reasons. Many come seeking lower-cost items that fit their budget; others enjoy the yard-sale type treasure hunt. Many come to fellowship (and browse the racks in the process). Willing to stay for four-hour shifts, volunteers are drawn to the meaningful work. Countless residents donate items they no longer need.

“The customers are fabulous, and I enjoy visiting the many that come in regularly,” Ellington said. “It’s a tight- knit group of both volunteers and customers, with lots of diversity that I appreciate. It’s like a family at the store.”

Having been located in three different locations in Black Mountain, the current location is owned by the Kiwanis Club, which recently finished making payments on the building. It’s an easy place to drop off donations, to find a parking place and to store items, co-manager Bill Cox said. Sales have increased each year the shop has been in its current location. The Kiwanis hope to give close to $200,000 this year to community projects, Cox said.

Cox’s commitment as co-manager means going by most daily to handle matters. It is not a hard sell for him, though. He “loves what the money is used for and the people are wonderful to work with, “ he said.

At 37 years, Minnie Bartlett is the longest-serving store volunteer. Her husband likes to say she would pay to come volunteer there, Cox said. About 60 volunteers make the operation possible, many of whom are not Kiwanians. They include shift managers and cashiers, along with those who sort, tag, hang clothes and keep the shopping floor orderly and inviting.

The shop needs more volunteers, Cox said. Though most weekly shifts are four hours (9 a.m.-1 p.m. or 1-5 p.m.), “we will work with someone that wishes to work a shorter shift or less frequently, like once a month or as a sub,” Cox said. To learn more, contact Cox (669-0435), Jim Parsons (357-8191) or Lois Nix (669-7868). The thrift store number is 669-2211, available also to organizations that would like to be considered for funding.

Funding recipients include libraries, the Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry, Owen School District, Hand in Hand, Kiwanis service clubs in schools, Women’s Prison ministry, Black Mountain Home for Children, and Children and Friends Enrichment Center.

The Black Mountain-Swannanoa Kiwanis Club is a member of Kiwanis International, a global organization of volunteers dedicated to improving the world, one child and one community at a time.

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