St. John the Beloved's thrift shop offers fashion outlet for retired volunteers

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Step into St. John the Beloved Church's thrift shop in McLean and you are as likely to find a gently used designer dress as you are a retiree committed to keeping the place going. Out of the shop's approximately 45 regular volunteers, Manager Sue Clemente, a retired flight attendant and supervisor, said "only four or five are not retired."

Helen Kwiatkowski, 80, has volunteered at the tidy shop off and on for 41 years. Her tasks have varied over the decades but, these days, she relishes sorting clothing donations for the women's department. Her eyes light up when talking about ready-to-wear from such fashion luminaries as Dana Buchman and Adele Simpson.

"We'll get Talbots, Jones New York and Burberry from England," said Kwiatkowski, who once worked in the costume jewelry department at Hecht's. "I can't even name all of the brands and designers we get. I'm thrilled (with our donations.)"

She added that she continues to volunteer at the shop because she loves helping people and she loves clothes.

Established in 1960, the parish-based thrift shop started out as a uniform exchange for the parish grade school. Today, the shop exists to fundraise for the parish, as well as diocesan and national organizations. The shop fields donations from parishioners and non-parishioners alike, and promotes its weekly sales to a listserv of more than 200 members from across the region. Listserv subscribers include everyone from fashionistas looking for a bargain to families in need of clothes, housewares and other items. The children's department is particularly beloved by the latter.

Rose McCauley, 57, who has volunteered at the thrift shop for about 15 years, became involved in the children's department because she enjoys sorting through all of the "cute" donations, which range from brand name formalwear to American Girl books and more. She also puts together the department's seasonal displays for Christmas, Easter and Halloween.

After a 20-year career as a secret service agent, McCauley said that she volunteers at St. John the Beloved

"because of the sense of camaraderie" nurtured by Clemente.

"Sue is a 24/7 person," said McCauley. "She's really invested in this place, and has a tremendous work ethic. She leads by example and has a good sense of the volunteers."

Clemente credits the shop's success on the quality of volunteers as well as the quality of the donations they receive.

"We are so blessed with really good donations," said Clemente. "Because of that, we (sort through everything) and only put out the cream of the crop … one of our regular shoppers calls our shop Tysons III."

The rest of the donations are sent to local shelters and charities, some of which sell the clothes to textile recycling companies to raise funds for their missions.

In terms of recruiting more volunteers, Clemente said, "there is always more room."

Find out more

If you are interested in volunteering at St. John the Beloved Church's thrift shop, contact Sue Clemente at thriftstore@stjohncatholicmclean.org.

Stoddard can be reached at cstoddard@catholicherald.com.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015