Dismas Thrift Store volunteers are a part of prison ministry

BEAUFORT — The Prison Ministry Dismas Thrift Store has been open for about four months, but without its volunteers, it wouldn’t have made it past the first week.

Rita Brown, assistant manager, said they have about 50 active volunteers who organize merchandise, sort clothes, price items, run the cash register, clean and so much more.  

In order to say thank you to these women and men, the Diocese of Charleston’s prison ministry office held “The Jewels of Dismas” appreciation luncheon at the Callawassie Island River Club in Okatie on June 24.  

The term Dismas refers to the “Good Thief” who asked Christ’s forgiveness as he hung on the cross.

Prison Ministry is a branch of Catholic Charities, and the thrift store helps support children who are the victims of crime, including those whose parents are incarcerated.  

Since its opening day on March 15, the thrift store has raised $28,764, according to Jennifer Elkins, a coordinator at Catholic Charities. Elkins said they hope to use the money to provide scholarships for these children to attend Catholic schools.

Deacon James Hyland, diocesan coordinator of prison ministries, said the thrift store is holding its own despite the slumping economy. Still, he would like to see more customers and increased sales.

Hyland said the best-selling items are furniture and household items, especially rugs, which are often snapped up in just a few days. Clothes also sell well, and he credits that success to the ladies who pop in about once a week with their irons to make the gently-used garments look sharp.

“I think we’re the only thrift store that irons items,” he said. “We get compliments on how clean and organized our store is.”

All thanks to the “jewels” who volunteer. Brown said she refers to them by that term because they are the true prizes at the thrift store.

In a written tribute, the volunteers are said to be “known for their inner beauty, strength and the brilliance they share with others. Without our volunteer support the Dismas Thrift Store could not function. We would be poor without our ‘jewels’.”  

At the luncheon, the tables were decorated with pearls, candles and a gift for each person, Brown said.

Father Ronald Cellini, pastor of St. Peter Church in Beaufort, offered a blessing and encouraging words to the volunteers, Hyland said. And Deacon Ed Peitler, director of Catholic Charities, gave a video presentation of “Children of the Imprisoned,” which highlights the work of prison ministries. Brown said the presentation seemed to be an eye-opener for the volunteers.

“People called in after the luncheon and offered to volunteer another day. They said they didn’t realize how important it was,” she said. “I thought it went well. I think the people really felt appreciated.”

Hyland said one of the benefits of the day was that the volunteers, who come in at different times and different days, were able to meet each other and share their experiences. He hopes the luncheon inspires those who attended to evangelize and recruit more volunteers.  

Hyland added that while the volunteers may never set foot in a prison, they are still part of prison ministry, and are blessed for it.