60 years of the Bargain Box

Pure Nebraska
Published: May. 10, 2022 at 6:40 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - A thrift store in Beatrice has become a bit of a landmark, as the Bargain Box marks a big anniversary.

“Back in 1961, which was then the Martin Luther home, there were 10 ladies that were doctors or ministers’ wives,” Bargain Box volunteer Carlyn Koenig said. “They felt like the children at the Martin Luther Home at the time, needed more than what they were getting.” At first the concept started out small. “To begin with, they brought merchandise from their homes and sold it to raise money,” Koenig said. Now the amount of money being given out by the Bargain Box has grown over the years, and it’s generated primarily from the sale of donations. “$80,000 one year, $85,000 the next year,” Koenig said.

This year, the Bargain Box brought in $86,000 from people coming in to purchase the donated items. Instead of the Martin Luther Home, the thrift store now supports MOSAIC, which is an organization dedicated to helping people with disabilities and those with mental and behavioral health needs. That $86,000 when to MOSAIC this year. Donations come from all over Beatrice and throughout southeast Nebraska. “We have people that come from Crete, Wilber and of course, Beatrice,” Bargain Box president Lois Podendorf said. “We have our carts, they put the items in the carts, and we take it to the back room and sort it. It goes to the different departments. We have housewares, books, shoes, linens.”

The volunteers make every effort to make sure they are putting gently used, but high quality items, on the showroom floor for people to buy. “Everything is priced 3, 4 or 5 dollars,” Koenig said. “We sell a lot. And they are lined up here on Thursdays, when we open up, they are lined up sometimes down the block.” It turns out that almost everything donated to the store, is used in some way. Even those items that don’t make it to the showroom floor due to a blemish or a tear, end up going to the Orphan Grain Train. “Every three weeks, Grain Train comes from Grand Island, and they will pick up our excess,” volunteer Lyn Scheiding said. “They take it and use it for people in the United States who have floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, they go out of the country. Right now we have some going to the Ukraine.”

The store could not operate without the dedication of more than 50 volunteers who work at the Bargain Box. “I think we feel proud,” volunteer Edie Ray said. “We’re proud that we are doing something worthwhile. Most of us are older, and so this is a way for us to contribute to our community.” Not only are the volunteers making a difference in the community. They enjoy the work. The thrift store also provides them with a sense of accomplishment, and it fills a need for friendship. “I lost my husband in 2002, and I needed some social, I needed to get out of the house and spend time with other people, and that’s when I joined,” Koenig said.

“Sometimes you can hear the laughter coming out of the back room,” Ray said. “The customers probably wonder what’s going on back there. But, yes, the ladies just enjoy each other and they get a lot of work done.” Many in the community hope the work continues for a long time to come. “We feel like we do a lot of good,” Ray said.

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