Thrift Store Volunteer
Goes Above and Beyond

Imagine all the things you could do for yourself over the course of 21,250 hours. Vacationing? Going to a restaurant or a sporting event? Maybe watching a little television? Sleeping in?

Since 1998, Sandy Smith, 72, has spent 21,250 hours volunteering at Bethesda’s Horicon thrift store.

Sandy says she accumulated the massive total because she’s a widow and needs something to occupy her time. But, in the process, she’s found a place that feels less like a get-away and more like a home.

“We are almost like a family,” she says. “But my family is out of state, so this is my family.”

Sandy has met many new friends at the store, and her favorite part of volunteering is the one-on-one time with the other women who donate their time. One of her best friends was a woman named Gertie, who turned 90 with a birthday celebration at the store, but has since passed on.

Sandy’s children, who live nearby, tell her she spends too much time at the store.

“I get an earful all the time,” she says.

Her grandson, a 21-year-old who works in construction, helps out at the store sometimes. Afterward, Sandy generally treats him to a home-cooked meal. She used to take him out to eat, she says, but when her doctor put her on a salt-free diet, she had to revise her method of appreciation.

She has helped out in different capacities at the store, serving as head cashier and helping with bookkeeping, but Sandy currently works in the back of the store, sorting and pricing donated items like shoes, school and office supplies, makeup, gift wrap, pet supplies and much more. She also serves as a cashier for Bethesda’s seasonal Christmas store in Horicon.

Horicon store manager Jim Dais says Sandy is the “mother” of the store.

“She makes sure everybody is taken care of and happy, and if there’s a need for supplies, she’ll take care of it or ask me to,” he says. “She runs the back of the store, under my direction. Sometimes she has to do things on her own, and she just does them. She’s very committed.”

Like some other volunteers, Sandy sometimes even takes items home to work on and bring back.

“That’s the only way to keep up sometimes,” she says.

Paul Gieschen, Bethesda’s corporate director of retail operations, says Sandy has been a long-time leader at the Horicon store who helps out in numerous ways and is always on the lookout to recruit more volunteers.

“The bottom line is she has a big heart, and cares wholeheartedly for the mission of Bethesda and works hard in every way possible to support that mission,” he says.

As of 2016, Sandy is one of four Horicon volunteers who have more than 10,000 lifetime hours. The others are Carol Germer (16,500); Joy Hardesty (13,500); and Lucille Oathout (12,000). In 2016, 67 Horicon volunteers worked a staggering 20,768 hours. Across Bethesda’s retail operations, 1,257 volunteers worked a total of 192,273 hours.

“We have great volunteers at every store, and many of them give a remarkable amount of time to support us,” Paul says. “Horicon just has a group that all give a tremendous amount.”

Jim says his volunteers take a lot of pride in the store and their individual product lines. They often inquire about which items are selling, and will then strive to get those items processed for sale more quickly.

Also, they watch out for each other and the staff, Jim says. “They are very committed,” he says. “They are very close.”

Sandy encourages everyone to volunteer, but she says she understands it’s difficult for families that have both parents working and a family to raise to give up time.

“You’re asked to just do what you can,” she says.

Bethesda has 18 thrift stores in eight states. By volunteering in one of our stores, you help us fulfill our mission to enhance the lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The income generated by our thrift stores directly benefits the people we support.

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