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The Salvation Army Thrift Store
A Slice of Humanity
If you spend any time at all in the Thrift Store you will learn that the people who shop there are not homogeneous. They speak various languages, come from a variety of cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds, and are of virtually all religious, political, and sexual orientations.
In this cross-section of humanity you find all kinds. Some shop there because they need to extend scant resources as far as possible, some are looking to find a hidden Monet and retire early, and some simply want retro clothes - which you just can't find new.
Whatever the reason, we flock to the Thrift Store in droves, and our ongoing visitation creates a living population of shopping diversity.
The Thrift Store on upper Peach Street in Erie, Pennsylvania is fairly typical, and as a regular patron with a curious mind, the origins of this place intrigued me. The blending - in name at least - of the religious and the military was to me a curiosity worthy of investigation, and so I did some research.
According to its website, the Salvation Army's objectives are "the advancement of the Christian religion…of education, the relief of poverty, and other charitable objects beneficial to society or the community of mankind as a whole."
The Thrift Store doesn't seem to specifically fill any of these rolls. They certainly don't hold services there - as far as I have seen - so how does it fit into the grand scheme?
Founded in London 1865 by William Booth, the Salvation Army has long been two things: communicator of the Gospel in the Christian tradition, and provider of charitable services to those in need. According to their website, since 1878 the Salvation Army has utilized a quasi-military command structure. Even today it "uses uniforms, flags and ranks to identify, inspire and regulate its endeavours."
It is run by a General, and is characterized by the same flexibility and command structure that can be seen in a military organization. Also like a military unit, the Salvation Army has a mission, rooted in its historical origin.
In the Beginning
In 1865 William Booth was a London minister. He decided that the poor, destitute, and homeless needed more than a sermon, so he undertook to recruit established churches to help provide for the needs of these people.
It didn't go so well. The unwashed apparently weren't welcomed with open arms in the mainstream places of worship, so Booth founded a church for them, called the East London Christian Mission. It was not an immediate success, but Booth remained resolute in his faith and his mission. This pairing of faith and action was an integral part of the founder of the Salvation Army, and remains a characteristic of the Salvation Army as an organization today.
Not Just a Store
Through my research I learned that the Salvation Army provides many services to those in need throughout the world, but specifically, the money generated by the Thrift Stores is used to fund the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Centers, where people work through various life issues. They also provide work opportunities for people in rehabilitation.
Now when I visit the Salvation Army Thrift Store I appreciate that I am in the midst of an impressive organization that provides numerous services, not just a rack of clothes.
That feels as good as a bargain.
Salvation Army Statistics, January 2014
Community development programmes: 10,859 (number of beneficiaries: 1,087,781)
Homeless hostels: 407 (capacity: 23,752)
Residential addiction dependency programmes: 281 (capacity: 19,800)
Children's homes: 224 (capacity: 9,739)
Homes for elderly persons: 178 (capacity: 7,482)
Mother and baby homes: 45 (capacity: 1,308)
Refuges: 64 (capacity: 1,934)
Community day care centres: 611
Non-residential addiction rehabilitation centres: 91
Services to the armed forces: 86 projects
Disaster rehabilitation schemes: 180 (serving 1,035,396 people)
Prisoners visited: 230,113
General hospitals: 21
Maternity hospitals: 15
Specialist hospitals: 7