Celebrating 25 years of good shopping, good people and good ACTS

Date Published: 
April 25, 2014

Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: After opening a permanent ‘yard sale’ 25 years ago, ACTS founders returned to see the thrift shop’s growth, including, from left, Evelyn Eby, Rae Weising and Carlene Jones. Not pictured is Alma ‘Cookie’ Woodhouse.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark: After opening a permanent ‘yard sale’ 25 years ago, ACTS founders returned to see the thrift shop’s growth, including, from left, Evelyn Eby, Rae Weising and Carlene Jones. Not pictured is Alma ‘Cookie’ Woodhouse.Almost every single day, people wait in line for the doors to open. But what’s behind those doors isn’t a nightclub or movie premiere. It’s Atlantic Community Thrift Shop (ACTS), located on Route 26 in Clarksville.

ACTS’s incredibly low prices and charitable mission have served the community for 25 years. People can find racks of clothing, furniture, yard tools, lamps, office supplies and furniture, dishes, art, jewelry, books and more inside.

ACTS accepts donations year-round, with some of the more unique offerings they’ve received including boats, a dozen dining sets at one time, bicycles, kooky kitchen utensils, designer purses and boxed Christmas trees.

“It’s amazing. It does so much good, what they buy and what they donate,” said founder Carlene Jones. “One time, we received a flyswatter, and we were tickled to death, because nobody had thought [to get one].”

Furniture and appliances have really brought in money, even at modest prices. Washers, dryers and stoves can be had for $25. Mattresses are $35 at the most.

“We live in a wealthy area, and we’re lucky,” said ACTS President Karen Lesperance.

Homeowners have even invited staff to dig through gutted old homes, claiming cabinets and all. Sometimes it’s beachfront homes.

ACTS helps the community help itself. People give items that others need or want to buy. The money the customers pay for the donated items goes right back into the community.

In addition to the Southeast Sussex Ministerium, ACTS makes monthly donations to Helping Hands, the Pyle State Service Center, Roxana Cheer Center, Community Food Pantry, Casa San Francisco and MHDC HRP Home Repair, as well as at least 15 other groups regularly, including Meals on Wheels, Lower Sussex Little League, Millville Volunteer Fire Company, Camp Barnes and more.

Amazingly, a shop selling shirts for 50 cents can donate a total of $20,000 each month.

“We do not get paid. We are all volunteers. Everything stays in the area,” Treasurer Theresa Pyskaty emphasized. “We do a lot of good here.”

People love the cheap shopping, the friendly volunteers and the good cause.

“You can find anything. You can find designer clothes for 50 cents,” said shopper Gale Noguera, who found at ACTS a solid oak designer dresser worth $3,000. “I got it for $100.”

“Our whole place is decorated in ACTS,” weekender Rob Nace added with a laugh.

He’s a sucker for the ACTS bicycle rack and also bought a mini coffee maker for work.

“The volunteers are crazy nice here, and that’s very important,” Noguera said.

Even unsold items get a second life. Extra clothes are stuffed “sky-high” into a Baltimore-bound tractor-trailer to be recycled or re-sold. Old towels go to the SPCA.

Building a legacy

ACTS began and continues as a partnership between churches in the Southeast Sussex Ministerium.

“Many years ago, churches would just have yard sales in the church,” said founder Evelyn Eby. “I felt sorry for people coming in. They had to root through all these [unsorted] items and sizes.”

The Rev. Alex Slonin, then pastor at Mariner’s Bethel UMC, preached about thrift shops, and inspiration struck. A handful of women met at Eby’s home in 1988 and officially opened the thrift shop doors Feb. 1, 1989.

The Ministerium only had a few churches then, compared to 20 today, but they all sent representatives to make ACTS a united effort. They operated as an indoor yard sale in a house next to the current shop, later becoming ACTS (named both for Route 26’s Atlantic Avenue designation and the book of Acts in the Bible).

They were blessed with widespread help, from donations to labor in pulling down old trees. “When we opened this building, we were debt-free,” Eby said. “God was with us.”

“Yes, he was,” said longtime worker Irene Marvel.

“It gives me chills,” Eby said. “We were doing God’s work.”

How to get help

“We also give tons away,” Lesperance said. That’s clothing, food and home goods — not money, at least not directly. Families in dire need can simply go to the Pyle Center in Roxana. They tell the agency what they need, and ACTS fills the order.

“We try to give them decent stuff,” Lesperance said.

Families losing everything in a fire can go straight to ACTS, and local churches and schools call ACTS regularly for food cards and clothing.

Bev Bigley is the school liaison. “She hears me share all of the needs and goes back to her group at the ACTS and make it happen,” said Cheryl Carey, school counselor at Phillip C. Showell Elementary School.

“ACTS is a great resource within our community. We have a great relationship with them, and they are always willing to help families in need,” Carey said. “They have been tremendously generous. It is wonderful knowing they are there and have helped whenever I have asked.”

Special moments fill ACTS’s history, such as the joyous man who found — and wouldn’t leave — the perfect recliner for his dialysis treatment.

Once, a little boy came to the back door, saying, “Someone told me I could get a bed here. I need a bed,” Lesperance recalled.

With a few tears in their eyes, volunteers loaded him and his ill-looking father up with a bed and sheets. “An 8-year-old child doesn’t ask for that.”

From the elderly to those needing a hand up, “We help anybody. There’s no discrimination here,” Lesperance said.

Building a community effort

More than anything, ACTS wants volunteers, for a few hours or for a weekly shift. They have fun, listening to music, dancing and joking while they sort the ever-flowing donations coming in and going back out the door.

Students have been helpful, including local Boy Scouts, JROTC cadets and athletes. ACTS makes a donation to each group that helps and offers a $2,000 scholarship for Southeast Sussex students volunteering 50 hours over a one-year period (which works out to about $40 per hour).

The Howard T. Ennis School also sends students weekly to practice their skills, whether organizing, socializing or in business.

“Food stamp” applicants can also work for SNAP credit.

“We do a lot. We definitely do a lot. That’s why it’s important,” Lesperance said.

While the business of ACTS continues unabated, big changes are on the horizon. ACTS will soon open an additional eastern parking lot, since Route 26 will come up on ACTS’ doorstep as the Route 26 Mainline Construction Project widens the road over the next 2.5 years. The State will pay for renovations when ACTS moves its main entrance from the storefront to the eastern wall, too.

Most of the original members have retired from ACTS, and those founding ladies took a new look at the updated shop, with long racks of clothes, clean shelves and a full furniture room.

“We’re happy it continues to be such a success,” said founding president Rae Weising.

For two more weeks, ACTS is open Monday to Friday, from noon to 3 p.m., and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Beginning May 1, for summer, ACTS is open Monday from 4 to 7 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from noon to 3 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Donations will be accepted all summer, on Monday from 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 to 6 p.m.; Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and Saturday from 9 to 11:30 a.m.

For additional information on ACTS, contact Atlantic Community Thrift Shop at (302) 539-3513.