Walking into Common Goods in Crosslake, you might find one or two employees manning the store at a time. What you might not see, however, is all the work volunteers do behind the scenes on a daily basis.
Common Goods is a thrift store that gives all proceeds to Bridges of Hope, a nonprofit for struggling families in the lakes area. To keep operating costs low, retail manager Andrea Martin relies on all kinds of volunteers in and out of the store.
"They're priceless," said Martin. "Volunteers allow us to exist and sustain. We would probably lose money without our volunteers."
Kay Spizzo and Deb Pearo have each been volunteering for nearly three years, usually working the same shift together in the back room. They do everything from cleaning and restocking to sorting donations.
"It's one of the highlights of my week," said Spizzo.
She was looking for something to do that she had never done before, but she didn't want a full-time job. She wandered into Common Goods one day, heard they were looking for some help and jumped right in.
Pearo first learned about Bridges of Hope and was pleased to see that the money generated at Common Goods stays in the area rather than goes to a corporation. She, too, was looking for something she could participate in that didn't require a fixed schedule, so she started volunteering two or three hours per week.
"It might feel like you don't do a lot, but it all adds up," said Pearo.
"Giving back is very important," added Spizzo. "If everyone would give two hours of their time, think of how many volunteers we would have."
Dennita Pierson is newer to the Common Goods volunteer family. She said this is her first experience volunteering, and she started when she moved to Crosslake after retiring for the third time.
"They say you should find something you love, and I guess I found mine," she said. "It's nice to feel needed, to feel like you accomplished something. Sometimes having a certain thing to focus on just helps empower you."
While most of the volunteers wouldn't mention their special talents themselves, Martin had no reservations about highlighting the unique abilities each volunteer brings to the store.
Pierson, for example, is an exceptional knitter. She makes scarves, hats and baby blankets out of donated yarn to sell. She also takes that skill and extends it to mending.
"Nita can fix things that otherwise would be recycled," said Martin. "Mending is kind of neat because a lot of volunteers don't have the skills to do that."
Pierson is also known for bringing food to her volunteer shifts to make sure the other Common Goods employees get fed.
"It's fun to be able to play to your strengths," she said.
Martin said Spizzo is especially helpful with removing tough stains, taking an unsellable item of clothing and bringing it back looking brand new. Pearo is able to manage pricing items, which is a task not all volunteers are trusted with.
"We all have different personalities and strengths," said Spizzo. "We kind of become a family."
Martin's search for volunteers led to an unexpected partnership as well. Residents in the Memory Care Center at Golden Horizons Senior Living in Crosslake are working on their motor skills and socialization while also helping Common Goods.
Martin frequently sends boxes of tangled jewelry, stacks of greeting cards and piles of wadded up plastic shopping bags for residents to separate and flatten out. These tasks are time-consuming for everyday employees, but seniors at Golden Horizons are able to take on some of that burden. Groups of up to half a dozen residents join together with the help of Memory Care Center employees to volunteer each week.
"It's really beneficial," said Golden Horizons Administrator Vanessa Lane. "They feel like they're helping out with the community."
Lane said these specific, repetitive tasks are beneficial for coordination and movement, and scheduled activities like this help bring the residents out of their rooms.
"It's good for the social aspect as well, which we like to emphasize," she said. "We don't want them to be isolated."
Martin agreed that this partnership has been a wonderful way to connect seemingly unrelated areas of the Crosslake community.
The concept of community runs strong at Common Goods. The volunteers often will schedule social events outside of work hours, and even have fun together while they're working.
"We're usually laughing and telling stories with each other," said Pearo.
While the work of the volunteers is necessary to keep the Common Goods business afloat, the personalities that come with the volunteers are just as important to the store's identity.
"It's really fun," said Martin. "It changes the whole work atmosphere in a positive way."
Martin is always looking for more volunteers, especially as the town gears up for the summer crowd. For those interested in helping or learning more, contact Common Goods in Crosslake at 218-692-7682 or firstname.lastname@example.org.