The Flambeau Hospital Auxiliary will open the doors to their new thrift store location at 10 a.m., Saturday, June 15, located in the former Sears building at 125 2nd Ave. North in downtown Park Falls.
This spring, the former Sears building was purchased by Flambeau Hospital in order to rent the space to the auxiliary. After more than two years of looking for a bigger, better location for the thrift store, the auxiliary has spent the last month loading up boxes of donated items and moving everything down the street from their former location on Division Street next to the Pal Cafe.
“It’s been a lot of work, but it’s happy work,” said Jean Nelson, who serves as one of the store managers. While Nelson manages the layout of the store and donated items, fellow auxiliary Arlene Morrison helps organize the auxiliary’s volunteers.
“We have so much room now,” commented Nelson. “More items can be displayed and things aren’t as piled on top of each other. There’s a lot more room for organization.”
The thrift store is the main funding mechanism for the FHA, whose mission is to support Flambeau Hospital by helping fund unbudgeted special needs. Each year, the thrift store brings in approximately $30,000 — the entirety of which (apart from rent and general upkeep costs) is donated toward specific hospital needs and healthcare education scholarships.
In recent years, the funds raised through the thrift store have helped fund everything from the canopy over the front of the hospital entrance to bariatric beds to specialized lab equipment.
While the thrift store was started in 1953, the roots of the auxiliary go back still further. The earliest version of the organization was formed in 1928 as the Friends of the Park Falls Hospital; a group of local women who helped out at the hospital by mending sheets and hospital gowns.
Over the years, the group’s work grew and expanded, eventually resulting in the formation of the FHA.
Today the FHA is approximately 120 members strong, 40 of which are active volunteers while others are funding members.
In the days before the store’s opening, those volunteers are hard at work, moving and setting up in their new space. Amidst the hustle of work, there is an excitement and between hanging clothes and carrying shelves, there is chatter as friends catch up and laugh together.
It’s this sense of camaraderie that has keep the FHA alive and active all these years.
Cheryl Syzmik, one of the auxiliary’s longest volunteers at 22 years, says it is the connections she’s forged with her fellow volunteers and customers that keeps her involved with the group.
“I’ve worked at the till for years now, and I’ve met so many customers that way,” she said. “After a while, I get to know their names, and sometimes even their children and grandchildren, too.”
Nelson agreed, saying that the volunteers at the thrift store often become familiar with their regular customers, helping grow a sense of community.
Nelson first started volunteering with the thrift store 10 years ago, working a few spare hours whenever she drove into town from her Pike Lake area residence. Little by little, she found herself volunteering more and more, and eventually got together a group of friends from the Pike Lake area who carpool into town to spend a day working at the thrift store.
“It’s fun,” she said. “The people who work here are hardworking and we have a good time together. For a lot of us, it’s a nice social experience. We catch up with one another as we work, and then we often go get lunch together afterwards.”
For Ginny Bosse, who has been a volunteer for the past 12 years, the visible results of the auxiliary’s fundraising work serve as the greatest motivation. Seeing the ways in which the auxiliary can directly help improve the medical resources in the little town has lit a fire in Bosse that many of the auxiliary volunteers have.
In addition to funding the hospital’s work, the FHA gives a boost to first-year college students pursuing careers in healthcare by offering annual scholarships up to $6,000.
The auxiliary also operates a program known as the mini medics, which allows second grade students from Chequamegon, Phillips, and Butternut — as well as homeschooled students — to exercise their curiosity while touring the hospital and learning about the different services offered there.
The FHA hopes the new, larger thrift store location will help boost their fundraising efforts, allowing for more support of hospital projects.
Nelson also pointed out that shopping at thrift store is more ecologically-friendly, giving used items a chance at a second life instead of ending up in a landfill. In addition to clothing, shoes, dishes, books, and housewares, the thrift store will now be accepting donations of “hard furniture” such as bookshelves, tables, and chairs.
Nelson specified that donations should be clean and in working order. Adult clothing made of 50% or more cotton can be donated as rags if separated and marked as such.
Items such as baby car seats, college textbooks, computers, monitors, printers, TVs, mattresses, encyclopedias, college textbooks, microwaves, venetian blinds, exercise machines, electric blankets, heating pads, scratched or indented pots and pans, and upholstered furniture will not be accepted.
The thrift store will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.