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Philanthropic thrift store threatened with going out of business

Shirley Smith is concerned that the sale of the thrift store property on Old Brown Birdge Road will put the Repairers of the Breach Thrift Store out of business. (Staff Photo: Wade Marbaugh)

Shirley Smith is concerned that the sale of the thrift store property on Old Brown Birdge Road will put the Repairers of the Breach Thrift Store out of business. (Staff Photo: Wade Marbaugh)

COVINGTON — Repairers of the Breach, a nonprofit organization in Covington that serves the city’s poor, hungry and homeless through its giant thrift store, is threatened with going out of business.

The CEO, Shirley Smith, has seen the organization grow from a prison ministry to a thriving resource for the underserved population.

Now the philanthropic organization may lose its thrift store and its two shelters for the homeless. Those buildings are up for sale.

Smith and her husband, Gene, were involved in Full Gospel Prison Ministry run by Hub Doyal, along with another couple, Richard and Julie Fairburn. They held church services in prisons at Milledgeville and Columbus. That ministry continues today.

The original five founders decided to establish a thrift store, a nonprofit enterprise, to help fund the prison ministry.

While driving along Washington Street, where she grew up, Smith found the perfect location for the store, the vacated Oxford Sportswear building, about 11,000 square feet, on Old Brown Bridge Road.

According to Smith, the owner of the facility currently is The Arnold Fund. The Citizen’s attempts to reach a representative of The Arnold Fund were unsuccessful.

The thrift store opened in October 1991. As people came into the store, Smith and the others began to see the dire needs of the lower-income community.

“Children sleeping without mattresses, sleeping on the floor,” Smith said. “People being evicted because they were laid off their jobs. I felt bad for them to go out the door after we explained we were just a prison ministry.”

Soon the founders decided to expanded its focus to also become a community resource. Repairers of the Breach has plenty of donated clothing, so low-income customers can take what they need.

Other items, like furniture and appliances, require an application and references.

“There are those who will use you,” Smith said. Then she laughed: “They’ll be surprised that their friends, their references, will tell on them.”

Last year the organization began feeding the hungry on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Churches bring in food that serves about 50 people each night.

Each Christmas, Smith said, Repairers of the Breach helps approximately 300 families, purchasing new toys, fruit baskets and clothing and opening the store to those families. Citizens also donate items for the Christmas campaign or even sponsor a family, providing their gifts.

Repairers of the Breach expanded further when Robert Fowler III donated two houses as shelters for homeless families.

“The Arnold Fund has done a lot for the community. We have been blessed with a community donating items for us to sell and give away. Some donate money regularly.”

The homeless families stay in the shelters for up to six months, while the organization tries to help them get back on their feet.

Representatives from Repairers of the Breach check in on the homeless families with weekly inspections and Bible studies. The breadwinners are required to job hunt each morning and help at the thrift store in the afternoon.

“We don’t let them be idle,” Smith said. She added, “We can help some, and some we cannot.”

She relates an endearing story about a homeless man who shed tears when he came in. She said he turned around to leave, saying, “I can’t do this.”

“Can we talk about this?” Smith said to him.

He stayed and told her he had a successful business, wife and two kids, but started drinking heavily and lost it all. Smith put him up in one of the homeless shelters.

He attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and eventually got a job.

About four months after he left, he returned to Smith and told her, “I just want you to know I’ve got my business going again and I’ve got my family back.”

“That makes you feel it’s all worth it,” Smith said. “If we get one out of 10, that’s great.”

The organization has been looking for a new location, but Smith says, “We haven’t been successful in finding one that we can afford.

“I know we will. God will provide.”