The legend of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men is full of stories of a man and his group who “take from the rich and give to the poor”. While he and his band may be mythical, the spirit of giving, of using things from people who don’t need them to help those in need is alive and well, especially in this small community of Elgin.
In Elgin, our band of thieves is anything but criminal and they don’t hide out in a forest. They go by a business name, are located in a downtown building and spread goodwill and their profits throughout the area.
Elgin’s Bargain Box has only been in operation for 2 years and 3 months. To date, they have given back to communities, organizations and individuals in need over $76,000. That averages to over $2,800 per month that has been donated.
One of their most recent donations was $2,000 to the Elgin Community Center for a a new steam table and other much-needed items. They also presented $5,000 to go towards the bathhouse being built at the new Elgin swimming pool.
Those Who Give
Co-founder of the Bargain Box, Linda Kerkman, speaking on behalf of the business, sings the praises of the generous people who donate their goods to the thrift store, allowing them to give back.
“As people have witnessed our generosity, they have found greater generosity in their own life,” Kerkman told the Elgin Review. She summed it up noting that “the most joyful, peaceful people you know are generous people. They don’t count that cost to themselves, they give to the Jesus they see in the poor, in each other”.
As the Bargain Box plans for 2017 and beyond, they are looking at additional ways of helping, thinking outside of “the box” if you will. Kerkman says one area they would like to focus on is the needs of the older population in the area.
“A friend of mine who also is involved with a thrift shop in Nebraska says that their organization looks for ways to keep the elderly at home – in their own home,” she explained. A local friend, Julie Borer, told her about the number of elderly people who just miss qualifying for much needed services.
“There are people who were right above the Medicaid guidelines; they didn’t qualify for Medicaid but they were still low on funds and couldn’t afford their Lifeline. So, we sent a sizable grant down to the Area Agency on Aging for the strict purpose of using it for those who can’t afford their Lifeline.” Kerkman said that grant was made within the last ten days. They have also donated an additional $500 each to the Boone and Antelope county food pantries to purchase turkeys and hams. Monthly, the Bargain Box donates $300 to each of the food pantries.
Other projects they would like to explore include perhaps working with another entity to organize a “taxi”-type service for older residents. This service would utilize volunteers to take them to doctor appointments and other necessary trips both in and out of town.
Those Who Buy
As we look towards the season of giving, the Bargain Box has given to some who perhaps couldn’t afford to purchase many gifts, the opportunity to give good quality items, some barely used, some never used.
“I think people are most surprised by the price – that never seems to go away,” Kerkman said.
No one can say that the Bargain Box isn’t affordable. Even the staff is surprised by the volume they must be selling to bring in the amount of money they are dispersing. As she put it, they are either selling a large volume of items or “Jesus is multiplying the coins.”
While most items are clothing, kitchen gadgets and home decor, they have also been given and sold a fireplace, kitchen cabinets and larger furniture. This wide and unique variety has made them a “must stop” for many visiting Elgin and a fun trip when families get together.
“Lots of families come in,” Kerkman said. It has become a destination with especially younger kids. “Lonnie Dinslage’s girls and the grandkids. When Connie Seier’s grandkids get here (Elgin), that’s the first thing they ask about, if they can go to the Bargain Box.”
In talking about the fast-approaching Christmas holiday, Kerkman said that the Bargain Box was just approached to help with a specific project by the Orphan Grain Train in Norfolk.
“They wanted to know if we could help fund $90 mattresses to go to the Ukraine to an orphanage,” she said. “He would like to order 20 of them.” They have yet to decide how they will help with the mattresses.
Yes, the Bargain Box is giving the money in the form of grants, but it is truly the people who have donated items, and, in turn, shopped at the Bargain Box who are being so generous.
“I told Abby (at the Elgin Community Center) that when she told the people about the gift, that she should thank them for shopping with us, because now we have the money to give back to them. They bought their own steam table!”
As they count their blessings this Christmas season, top on their list is their volunteers.
“If we didn’t have the volunteers, we wouldn’t be open as many hours,” she said. “We knew when we started that if we didn’t have the volunteers, we would have to cut back. The number of the volunteers have seemed to increase, along with the confidence of those who work.”
Another key part of their success has been the availability of the building they use. Owned by Tami Schrage of Raeville, Schrage worked with the group from the start, allowing them to make necessary changes and practically giving them a green light to do what was needed to make the old Blair Motors building work for them.
Be sure you add the Bargain Box to your regular “must shop at” list when in downtown Elgin.
Not only might you find a hidden treasure or a relic from your childhood but each penny spent goes to a wonderful cause.