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Thrift shop giving almost $95,000 to groups

by Seth Hemmelgarn
Friday May 6, 2011

A nonprofit San Francisco thrift store that works with other charities, many of them LGBT, recently distributed thousands of dollars to the groups. And there's more to come.

The news is in contrast to recent reports that other community-based organizations have been unable to make payments to their beneficiaries, as the Bay Area Reporter has reported since last summer.

Corey Ruda, the marketing director for Community Thrift Store, at 623 Valencia Street, said the shop distributed a combined $94,000 to more than 175 agencies last week. The payments were for the first quarter of the year.

The store "started off primarily in 1982 to raise money for HIV research, and throughout the years, it's just grown to include every type of charity," said Ruda, who is gay. Current beneficiaries offer services ranging from providing meals to people living with AIDS to helping neighborhoods plant trees.

One agency the store has helped is the AIDS Emergency Fund, which has received about $377,000 through its partnership since 1988, according to AEF Executive Director Mike Smith. AEF received almost $3,000 at the store's partner appreciation night last Thursday. In addition, the associated Breast Cancer Emergency Fund received about $400.

Smith, who said 100 percent of the money it receives from the store goes to pay bills for clients, spoke highly of the thrift store.

"We've always loved them," he said. "We've sent people to them to drop off items all the time. ... It's really a remarkable fundraising model that they've got."

The way it works is each charity is assigned a code. When someone brings donations to Community Thrift to benefit a specific group, the items are coded with that group's number.

"We shoot for 40 percent of the sales to go back to the charities," said Ruda. The rest goes to overhead.

The store welcomes a wide variety of goods, from clothing to furniture, as long as the items are clean and sellable. "If we have to throw it away, it's an expense to us and the charities we serve," the shop's website says.

The store, which has 23 paid employees, has an operating budget of approximately $1.5 million. That's up from about $1.4 million last year.

Ruda, 42, said that total payments each quarter are "usually close to $100,000," so the store distributes about $400,000 a year.

"We're actually doing as well as or a little better" than last year, which he said was the shop's "all time high."

In contrast, the LGBT Pride Celebration Committee and Academy of Friends, two nonprofits that distribute money to community partners, have struggled this past year and have not been able to make full payments.

Pride interim Executive Director Brendan Behan that the board on Tuesday approved a $3,000 payment to the community partners; Behan is also donating $2,000 to supplement that amount, bringing the total payment to $5,000.

Academy of Friends has not responded to messages seeking comment on its current situation. It is believed AOF has not made additional payments to its beneficiaries since December.

Ruda attributes Community Thrift's success in part to people's recessionary shopping habits.

"It's popular to buy used, and now it's necessary for a lot of people to buy used," he said.

He also said what's helped is "being around since 1982 in the same spot" and covering "such a wide range of causes that people know whatever their cause is, they can donate to us and it will help support their cause."

Community Thrift's taking applications for new charities to join.

"We're trying not to go too much over 200 charities. There's always a slight wait list, and charities are added and dropped quarterly," said Ruda. Organizations receive warnings and are then dropped if they don't make enough sales. Ruda indicated the minimum amount is $200 a month in gross receipts. He estimated three to five groups are removed each quarter.

Project Open Hand, which provides meals and groceries for the critically ill, including people with HIV/AIDS, doesn't appear to be in any danger of losing its partnership with the thrift shop. The agency is supposed to receive about $2,700 for the first quarter.

Bob Brenneman, Project Open Hand's director of development and marketing, said the store has provided his agency with almost $341,000 since 1988.

"They've continued to be really steady and very faithful," said Brenneman, who also has a relationship with Community Thrift as a shopper.

"I love old books," and the store is "one of the few places you're actually going to find old books anymore," he said.

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