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Assistance League of Mid-Missouri expanding its resale shop

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 12:00 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Sandy Happ sorts through a batch of clothing to decide which items will sell for retail or be donated on Wednesday, May 11 in the backroom of the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri's Upscale Resale shop.

COLUMBIA — The back room of Upscale Resale could be the setting of a clothing lover’s most lavish fantasy.

Three horizontally stacked clothes bars stuffed with garments in a wide range of colors, shapes and sizes circle the high-ceilinged room. In a corner, chiffon and lace poof from three coat racks where dozens of donated wedding dresses have been hung. Shirts, dresses, ties and pants cover a table in the center of the room, waiting to be sorted.

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Five members of the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri pick their way through newly donated items; clothes, furniture and housewares are brought into the store almost every hour. The front of the store, where shoppers leisurely browse, is packed.

With space in mind, the Assistance League, a nonprofit, philanthropic organization that owns and operates Upscale Resale, recently finalized plans to expand into the vacant retail space next door to the current shop in the Broadway Shopping Center, 1729 W. Broadway. This expansion will double the store’s space and allow it to be more visible to passing motorists.

Upscale Resale serves as the Assistance League’s main source of funding for its programs aiding women and children in the community, and the organization’s members are optimistic about the expansion.

“Hopefully it will increase our profits,” Assistance League President Marilyn Starwalt said. “We just don’t know. It’s great that we have this expansion, as it will help us accomplish our main goal of helping women and children in need in Columbia.”

In total, the Assistance League’s 267 female members run 10 philanthropic programs. These include:

  • Assault Survivor Kits, which are packages containing clean clothes and hygiene items provided to hospitals to give to victims of sexual assault.
  • Bookbags, a program in which members of the Assistance League take sacks with books and learning activities to area elementary schools.
  • Operation School Bell, which provides clothing and hygiene items to more than 1,200 children from low-income homes each year.
  • Kaboodle Kits, which are packages of hygiene items provided to children from low-income families.

The organization also provides supplies for local charities such as True North women’s shelter.

The building that Upscale Resale occupies also serves as the space in which supplies for the organization’s programs are stored and organized. Several rooms near the back of the building hold shelves upon shelves of neatly labeled plastic containers holding clothing and the makings of the organization’s various kits.

“There’s just no room for all of this stuff right now,” Starwalt said, gesturing toward a shelf full of Kaboodle Kits. “We make 1,200 of these, and you think, 'Where is this going to go?' Because everyone else has filled up the space that we have.”

The expansion will help the Assistance League with this problem, expansion chairwoman Marie Sloan said.

“This will give us more retail space, more working space to process donations, and will give us more space to store the supplies for our philanthropic projects and programs,” Sloan said.

Brenda Kidwell, True North women’s shelter’s assistant executive director, said the Assistance League helps the shelter by providing it with fresh linens, hygiene items and cleaning products for its residents. Additionally, the Assistance League remodeled the shelter’s kitchen in 2007 and improved several of its bedrooms this year.

“The Assistance League takes care of things that we might not otherwise be able to afford,” Kidwell said. “They’re an incredible partner, and we would just be lost without them.”

Alyssa Neitzert, a sexual assault nurse examiner in the emergency room of University Hospital, said the Assistance League’s Assault Survival Kits are invaluable to her patients.

“Thanks to the League, we’re able to provide them with that clean pair of clothes that gives them a little bit more comfort when they leave," Neitzert said. "It would be difficult for us to do this without them just because of the cost surrounding what they provide in the kits. It makes things so much better for our patients. It’s a hard experience to go through, and having those tools to give these patients is just really wonderful.”

Starwalt said that Operation School Bell is the Assistance League’s largest philanthropic program. Once a year, schools choose children to be bused to Upscale Resale, where they are provided with new clothes and hygiene kits. A large room in the back of the building is filled with children’s clothing and has dressing rooms where the kids can try their new clothes on.

“Just to see them picking out their clothes — they’re like, ‘I get to keep this?’” Starwalt said. “Some of them are so thrilled over the hygiene kit, though. One little boy, one time after getting the hygiene kit, said to us, ‘So you mean I don’t have to share my toothbrush?’ You just don’t know what these kids are going through. Sometimes they’ll say: ‘I have my own coat! Now I won’t be freezing standing out waiting for the bus!’ So that’s what keeps our organization going.”

Although Upscale Resale provides the majority of the funds for these programs, the Assistance League also accepts donations and memorial tributes, has a comedy night each year and holds a cookie-bake fundraiser.

A list of items that can be donated to Upscale Resale is available on the store’s website. New items are put out on Wednesdays, the shop’s busiest day. The shop is also open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturday mornings.

Ruthie Craven, a frequent customer at Upscale Resale, said she likes being able to shop guilt-free.

“It’s great,” Craven said. “If I purchase something here, even if it’s something that I don’t end up using or wearing, I always think, ‘Wow, what a great donation,’ because I know that it’s going back into the community.”

The organization expects the new section of the store to open in the near future. In the meantime, construction will be under way, Sloan said.

“We’ll have all new flooring and paint,” Sloan said. “They’re going to remove the wall between the other space and what we now have as Upscale Resale.”

Kidwell said she has high hopes for Upscale Resale’s expansion.

“The expansion will mean bigger and better for them,” Kidwell said. “They have no limits — they can do anything they put their minds to. For them to do more with more space means giving more back to the community, which is just a win-win situation.”


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