By MARY ANN LICKTEIG
Need a last-minute Christmas gift?
How about a cashmere sweater for $30, Bruno Magli slingbacks for $10 or a $4 tie?
At SCHIP’s Treasure in Shelburne, you can even pick up a Hermès silk scarf – a Parisian luxury – for $275.
Rather donate to charity in lieu of buying gifts? When you shop at SCHIP’s, you do that, too.
The upscale resale store in the mustard-colored Queen Anne Vernacular house next door to the town offices donates all of its profits to other nonprofit organizations. The charity awards grants – up to $3,000 each – twice a year and meets additional emergency needs as they arise. It has helped people pay for a new furnace and for fuel tank and car repairs, and when fire displaced two or three families living in a Shelburne motel several years ago, SCHIP’s gave them clothing. An elementary school contacted SCHIP’s this winter, looking for jackets for an 8-year-old and an 11-year-old. The store didn’t have them, so it put out a call in its electronic newsletter and on Front Porch Forum and found them.
Since its inception in 2004, the store has awarded $680,000 to more than 100 organizations. A recent $5,000 grant from the Hoehl Family Foundation adds to the reserve that will be used for future grants.
“I think it just completes a circle for ways for people to be able to help each other,” said Karen Doris, coordinator of the Charlotte Community Food Shelf & Assistance, which has received many SCHIP grants over the years and used them to provide winter coats, boots, snow pants and tennis shoes for kids, as well as utility-bill assistance for families.
Founded by generosity
SCHIP stands for Shelburne Charlotte Hinesburg Interfaith Projects, the organization that runs the store.
Roddy O’Neil Cleary of South Burlington said she’s a regular shopper.
“I try to stay away,” she said, but the store lures her in. She stopped in two days in a row this month. She appreciates the fact that the store is selective, not stuffed with merchandise, and its prices are affordable. “And it’s in the spirit of Vermont,” to re-use things, she said.
The store was started when seven faith communities in the three towns got together to find a way to address unmet needs in their communities. As Colleen Haag remembers it, the Shelburne United Methodist Church had stopped running its annual rummage sale around that time, which sparked conversations about finding new ways to help people find affordable clothes and boots. The priests and ministers in the towns already met regularly, Haag said, so a spirit of cooperation was in place. It just needed to be tapped.
The topic was on the table one day when Haag, then Shelburne’s town clerk and treasurer (she still serves as treasurer) met Mary Abele, then a minister at All Souls Interfaith Gathering, for lunch. “We said, ‘Well, why don’t we start a shop?’” Haag said.
A steering committee researched the idea and volunteers lent expertise in finance, retail, media, and leasing. Fourteen years later, SCHIP is a collaboration of 10 faith communities in Shelburne, Charlotte and Hinesburg. Two representatives from each serve on the board of directors.
“I think the incredible thing about the three towns is the generosity of the people and understanding the mission of the store,” Haag said.
Eclectic donations hook shoppers at SCHIP
Open six days a week, the store has one paid full-time employee, manager Caroline Vanderbilt, two paid part-timers and 15 volunteers. It sells men’s, women’s and children’s clothing as well as housewares, artwork and jewelry. It gets between six and 10 donations a day.
“Some of the stuff that comes through the door is truly amazing,” said volunteer Scarlett Ober, pulling items out of a jewelry display case. “This is an antique amber pin, Victorian, probably late 1890.”
Ober, who once worked as a political consultant in New Jersey, is a trained jewelry historian who loves researching donated pieces. “You know, when the silver comes in, it’s all black. So I have to take I it and clean it. And then I get to see who it’s by or what the name is.”
The store once got a silver coin depicting a skull and flowers. Ober’s son, a musician, recognized the iconic Grateful Dead image. The back of the piece said “925,” indicating it was sterling silver, Ober said. “So I go (to a computer) and type in ‘sterling Grateful Dead medal’ and it comes up — $350. We got $275 for it.”
She said she generally marks things 20 percent lower than the prices she finds on eBay. “So that people get a good price here and, hopefully, that will keep them coming back,” she said.
Recent donations include two full-length fur coats, a mint condition Whiting and Davis vintage Dresden mesh purse, and a pair of new Tiffany & Co. champagne flutes, which sold in four days. At the bottom of a box of “sort of junky china,” Ober found an egg-sized, heart-shaped porcelain box made by Herend, a Hungarian company that painted china for royalty. “These probably go for a hundred bucks online,” she said. The porcelain rose atop the lid is completely intact.
Volunteers wash and iron donated clothes, and Gadue’s Dry Cleaning dry cleans anything that needs it for free. Off-season and extra items are stored in a warehouse, though Vanderbilt continually rotates inventory.
“You don’t want your customers coming in and saying, ‘Have you got anything new?’ So we change things, all the time,” she said.
When Vanderbilt gets donations that she thinks won’t appeal to her customer base, she passes them on to other organizations “so that ideally nothing will ever just go into the trash,” she said. When gold watches or jewelry arrives broken beyond repair, Martin’s Coin & Jewelry pays the shop for the gold. Cashmere sweaters with holes in them recently went to a group of women who felt wool and make it into mittens for people who are homeless.
Founders, shoppers and volunteers all share a commitment to reuse. Angelica McLennan of Shelburne displays the two first-edition Grandma Moses plates she bought at the store – for $2 apiece – on a table. She has been shopping at SCHIP’s since it opened, she said, “And I’m a real fashionista. I love clothes.” She doesn’t need many these days, she admitted, but she still comes in. “I live minutes away; that’s the trouble.”