Fifty years of giving

The women of the Discovery Shoppe have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for local charities—and never paid themselves a dime

IN THE AISLES<br>Jean Afonso and Loretta Carroll volunteer at the Discovery Shoppe, a thrift store that donates 100 percent of its profits to charities.

Jean Afonso and Loretta Carroll volunteer at the Discovery Shoppe, a thrift store that donates 100 percent of its profits to charities.

Photo by meredith j. cooper

Anne Brusie was in her late 20s when she began volunteering at the Discovery Shoppe thrift store in downtown Chico. That was 36 years ago, when her daughter was still too young to attend school and her son was in kindergarten.

She operated a cash register and assisted customers and eventually became a manager sifting through donations and pricing them for the floor. Today, Brusie is still working at the shop, one of nearly 90 volunteers who keep the nonprofit organization afloat.

The cute little store now located on Flume Street between Third and Fourth streets has been housed in several locations over the years, but it has been in continuous operation since 1959. It’s celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, making it one of the oldest philanthropic organizations in Chico, and in this struggling economy business is booming.

The volunteers will be celebrating the anniversary during the first week of May with free drawings, door prizes, refreshments and daily specials.

“I like the people who work there. … We have a lot of regular customers, and all of us, we donate too and buy back,” says Brusie, a former president of the nonprofit. “It makes you feel good in what you are doing. … All the money, everything you give to us, goes back into the community.”

In 2008, the Discovery Shoppe donated $80,000 to 13 local charities, including the Butte County Council of the Blind, Catalyst, the Little Red Hen Nursery, Shalom Free Clinic and Youth for Change. Since 1996 the nonprofit has donated roughly $385,000 to local groups, and the figure for its full 50 years is several times that.

Not one Discovery Shoppe worker—they’re all women—has ever earned even a dime for her efforts.

Brusie says she is proud to still be involved with the group. Over the years it’s been like her second job, her first being to help her husband, Warren, in the family funeral-home and cemetery business.

Only a handful of the old-timers are still working. Brusie says a few have been volunteering even longer than she has.

The women rotate shifts on a monthly basis. Each volunteer must be recommended by another in order to become involved. “You just can’t come in off the street,” Brusie says.

The volunteers start off working in the front, either organizing merchandise, helping customers or operating the register. After a volunteer puts her time in, she gets promoted to manager status—processing and pricing donations that come in daily. Shifts are only three hours, three to five times per month.

“I always feel good when I go home at the end of the day,” says Kay Matzdorff, a manager who has volunteered for about 15 years. “And we have fun to boot.”

Originally the thrift shop existed to fund the Family Service Association, a nonprofit counseling group. When it closed its doors in 1993, members decided to reorganize and create the Discovery Shoppe League in response to the continuing need for charitable funding in the community.

Active league members—those who volunteer in the store—pay annual dues of $10, while associate members pay $15.

Over the years, store revenues have been supplemented by contributions, memorial legacies, bridge-tournament fund-raisers and donated monies from moving and estate sales. The mortgage at 315 Flume St. was paid off in 2004.

The shop accepts all donations except large furniture, including clothing, household items, dishes, books, appliances, small furniture, paintings and prints, frames, toys, board games and puzzles, purses, cookbooks and lamps. Prices are cheap, with clothing averaging about $3 per item or less.

Loretta Carroll, who is in charge of publicity and window displays, says volunteers make use of every donation, even if it cannot be sold in the store. “We really try to not put anything in the landfill,” she explains.

The women collect soaps and cosmetics and donate them to the Jesus Center or other homeless shelters. Painters can purchase old rags and clothing that cannot be reused for a dollar a bag. The Humane Society regularly picks up a box in which volunteers put old blankets, dishes and pillows that will benefit the animals.

“I think the fact that it is 100 percent volunteers appealed to me,” says Jean Afonso, treasurer of the Discovery Shoppe League. Afonso moved to Chico in 1998 from the Bay Area after working at General Electric for 30 years. At the shop, she balances the books, pays the bills and works as a cashier or in the back of the store.

“It gives me something to do that’s very rewarding,” she continues. “If I’m going to spend time away from home, it needs to be something that I enjoy.”