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Larisa Sarver of La Salle holds up a stuffed duck for her 8½-month-old grandson, Jon, at Lily Pads Resale Boutique in Peru. Sarver said she often comes to the store, whose proceeds benefit Illinois Valley Public Action to Deliver Shelter. “You never know what you’re going to find,” she said.
Two women sorted and priced jewelry. Three others prepared dolls and doll accessories. A man checked online auction prices for some select items. All six are volunteers at Lily Pads Resale Boutique in Peru, a second-hand thrift store shoppers describe as “upscale.” The store originally opened in the summer of 2006 at Fourth and Church streets. In 2009 it moved to a a new store it built at 4471 Progress Blvd. Last fall it added 4,000 square feet, kicking business up a notch. The store can receive up to 180 bags and boxes of donations per day, said Carol Alcorn, executive director of PADS. Illinois Valley PADS (Public Action to Deliver Shelter) uses the store to support its two homeless shelters in Peru and Ottawa. Alcorn led a reporter to the incoming donation area. Three volunteers sorted items. Rejects went into garbage cans. “This is the first-sort,” she said. “Everything gets sorted. We look for stains, rips, cracks.” Rejected items are sorted yet again for recycling. Textiles, plastics, metals, wiring, electronics, glass, cardboard and paper all have a market. The store gets 2-3 cents a pound for 100 percent cotton, Alcorn said. Some unwanted textiles go to Illinois Valley Animal Rescue for pet bedding and to churches for quilting projects. Some of those quilts, in turn, go to the homeless shelters. Medical equipment goes to free clinics. Plastic bags are recycled. Paper bags go to the food pantries. Eyeglasses go to the Lions Club, which distributes them to the needy around the world. “The thing that I am most proud of is that despite the increase in donations, we have not increased the size of our Dumpster,” said store manager, Rosanna Stremlau. The store has eight staff and more than 50 volunteers, and employs community service workers. Assistant manager Melissa Rutishauser oversees sorting. Coordination makes it work, she said. “Everybody sees things differently and how it flows. Everyone works as a team.” Volunteers and staff are assigned departments such as clothing, books, office and school supplies, party supplies, linens, crafts and hardware. Sellable items are neatly segregated on shelves in the warehouse. As items sell, workers pull new stock off shelves, price it and bring it to the floor. Three volunteers assigned to Lily Pads’ toy department — Alice Schmidt, her granddaughter, Megan Welbers and Lin Stuhr —sorted through a pile of dolls and doll accessories. “There are so many toys to put out that today we declared as ‘doll day,’” Stuhr said. Stuhr’s husband, Daryl, was a few feet away sorting books. Lin Stuhr combed conditioner into the dolls’ hair to untangle it. “It smells good, too,” Stuhr said. “Tricks of the trade here.” Alcorn exchanged a few laughs with the women. Stuhr said when Lily Pads moved and expanded, she thought Alcorn was “crazy.” “Lin was one of the first ones I called and said, ‘can you help me?’” Alcorn said. The behind-the-scenes donations, sorting and pricing drives the store. Stremlau couldn’t be happier with flow of merchandise. “We move it,” she said. “We were already thriving and growing before construction and construction has added to that.” Sales rose 50 percent in the past year and donations doubled over the past 1½ years. In the normally-slow retail months of January and February, business continued to be strong, Stremlau said. “It’s a bustling store,” she said. “It’s got a lot of good energy.” Stremlau envisions a triangle between the store, people who donate and customers. “That’s powerful,” she said. The store funds 59 percent of the shelters’ budgets. It also supplies items to the homeless at the shelter and to help furnish new homes. Besides shoppers buying up discounted items, goods flow into the community in other directions. Lily Pads donates goods to organizations such as Red Cross, United Way, Tri-County Opportunities Council and schools. Frank Smunt, a retired Illinois Valley Community College geology teacher, researches prices of donated items on the Internet. Some items are merely saleable, and others are collectible. “Don’t throw away Fisher Price (toys),” Smunt said, indicating their high value in the toy market. Smunt finds and prints out instructions for games. Volunteers make sure games have all their pieces before putting them out for sale. Volunteers Beverly Briddick and Carol Podobinski sat in the break room to sort and price jewelry. Gold, silver and gemstones get a closer look. They get help from a local jewelry shop to authenticate items. Jewelry goes into glass cases, purchased from the old Peru Wal-Mart after it closed. One item ready for pricing was a sterling silver Italian charm bracelet. “We look them up on eBay and we always go below the eBay price,” Briddick said. Ken and Denise Jones of Standard stop in at least once a week. Ken Jones said he likes the variety and low prices. “It’s well-organized,” he said. He inspected two motorcycle helmets. The couple enjoys motorcycles. “I’ve found some Harley stuff here,” Denise Jones said. Denise Jones stops in more frequently than her husband and searches for cookware, dishes, clothing and shoes, she said. “One man’s trash is another person’s treasure,” Denise Jones said. “The people are all very friendly, “Plus, it benefits people in need.”
Posted: Sunday, March 17, 2013
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Upcycling is generosity, kindness, and love of community at its finest. Donated prom apparel at a charity event in Colorado was joyful for all. The girls and boys contributed a small amount to charity and purchased beautiful attire for themselves. Many who could not afford to go to their prom appreciated the opportunity to be included. Valuing what we have, and sharing that which we no longer need is the food of our soul! Fabulous organization, Lily Pads! Thank you.
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