Keshena thrift shop’s profits help pay parish bills

KESHENA — “Fill a bag for a buck.”

That’s the slogan at St. Michael’s Thrift N Gift, an all-volunteer-run ministry of the parish here, 45 miles northwest of Green Bay, on the Menominee Indian Reservation.

Located in Menominee County, one of Wisconsin’s poorest counties, Thrift N Gift is a ministry with a dual purpose: It’s a fundraising project for St. Michael Parish while at the same time serving a community with great needs, pointed out Cookie Vigue, a St. Michael parishioner, who coordinates the effort.

Vigue has worked at the small, house-sized shop for 10 years now, but she said she’s never really thought about the average number of people who come to the Thrift N Gift when it’s open the first and third Tuesday each month.

Cookie Vigue, who coordinates the St. Michael Thrift N Gift in Keshena, stands in one of the store’s clothing sections. (Bob Zyskowski | For The Compass)

“We did sell 300 bags for a buck in one day though,” she remembered.

Aisles, walls, floors and shelves are packed with both used and new clothing, towels, bedding and kitchen items, decorations, costume jewelry, religious items — almost anything a family in need might require. There’s a baby room with clothing and toys, a seasonal section that’s filled now with items for Valentine’s Day, and a cutely presented closet with antiques and collectibles that bring in cabin people from the area’s nearby lakes. A few steps away, the shop’s garage holds furniture and other large items.

Everything is donated, Vigue explained — by parishioners and non-parishioners alike, by donors as far away as Chicago and Madison, and by businesses in the area.

“Sometimes we’ll get items that haven’t been selling and they’ll still have the price tags on them,” she said.

Vigue, who is retired, sorts through donations and organizes the shop every Monday and Tuesday. Depending on the volume of donations, she’ll work as many as five days a week. “I’m not alone, though,” she added, quickly naming fellow volunteers Ellie Sokoly, Ann Sardina and Kathleen de Groth.

As Vigue spoke with The Compass, up from the basement storage area with an armload of items came another volunteer, Mary Travis, a Clintonville resident who is back helping in Keshena in her retirement after working as a nurse on the reservation.

“We all volunteer, because the need is so great in the community,” Vigue said.

Above is part of the children’s section. (Bob Zyskowski | For The Compass)

A second benefit is that revenue from the Thrift N Gift helps St. Michael Parish pay its bills. In 2021, the shop turned a profit of $11,000 for the parish.

“Last year (2022), it was $12,000,” Vigue said with pride. “My goal is $13,000 this year.”

She gave a nod to St. Michael parishioners for their generosity. “If I see that we’re running low on bedsheets, for example, I put a notice in the bulletin and the community just pitches in. It’s wonderful.”

Vigue also has connections with people in nearby communities who serve the less fortunate, notably Dee Lyons of Shawano.

“We help each other out with items someone might need,” Vigue said.

On days when Thrift N Gift is open, there will be three tables outside with items anyone can take for free, Vigue said, adding, “Any tragedy in the community, like a house fire, we open up the shop and garage and tell people, ‘Take whatever you want.’”

This past Christmas, Vigue came up with the idea of giving shoppers a Christmas gift: The shop was opened on the Saturday before Christmas with the invitation “to BYOB — Bring Your Own Bag — and take 10 items as our Christmas gift to you.”

Vigue held her hands to her heart. “It was such a beautiful day,” she said.

“People came up to me and told me how much they appreciated what we do. A woman came with her little child. She had been in to get things for the baby when it was born. ‘I was in need and you helped me out,’ she told me.

“That made it all worth it.”

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