Rock Hill thrift shop benefits disabled

Angie Faile, left, and Barbara McAfee shop at the new Mulligan's thrift store on Rock Hill's West Main Street.
Angie Faile, left, and Barbara McAfee shop at the new Mulligan's thrift store on Rock Hill's West Main Street.

This economy is rotten for so many.

It's so bad for some among us who are disabled that basic jobs these terrific people do to be more self-sufficient -- stuff like bagging groceries, cutting grass, washing dishes -- are no more.

In the past three months, the York County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs has not been able to place a single willing worker into a job. That comes after 17 straight years when almost anybody who was a board client could find a job.

But that board's foundation -- a nonprofit separate board of directors that assists the main board with fundraising and other financial needs -- decided to do better than continue to look for jobs that don't exist. With financial help from the York County Community Foundation, the organization created the jobs, and a training program, themselves.

But unless business picks up at Mulligan's secondhand thrift store, the disabled might be unemployed again.

Mulligan's was born in August, after disability board staffers saw that other communities in the state were able to create self-sustaining thrift stores. The clients work in the store, learn retail skills and hopefully gain the experience to go out into the work force. The store is nonprofit, using donated clothes, furniture and other items that are resold. All the proceeds go back into the store for rent, utilities and to pay the workers who collect and clean items at the board's two work centers in Rock Hill and York. Workers stock the store and do whatever else needs to get done. So far, 36 people with disabilities who are without jobs have found meaningful work that costs taxpayers nothing.

One lady's name is Wanda Hayes. I asked Hayes what she does at the store, and she said, "a little bit of everything." Actually it is a lot of everything. Hayes is a smiling dynamo.

The store is just what you would expect. Gently used clothing, furniture, that kind of stuff. Jo Ann Melton, who has worked for the disabilities board for five years but ran her own thrift store before that, manages the place.

"This idea is already working, and it can thrive," Melton said. "When we have furniture, we are busy."

Customer Vada Harris came in this week and spent $8. Harris said she is a thrift store expert who loves a bargain.

"Nice stuff here. Clean and good," Harris said.

And when she found out the store trains the disabled, and the money stays in-house to pay wages and for training, she said, "All the better."

Another customer, Barbara McAfee, is a regular.

"It made me feel good from the first day I was in here that what I spend goes to help the disabled," she said.

The store is just east of Cherry Road on Main Street, a spot picked for its central location. In the 10 weeks the store has been open, though, business hasn't reached the point where the money coming in from sales has hit the break-even point, said Krista Bradshaw, the board's director of vocational supports. The problem is that not enough people know the store is open, or people don't know all the proceeds go back into the store's job program, Bradshaw said.

"Our goal here is both jobs and job training," Bradshaw said. "People here learn what it is really like to work in a store, so any of them can go out somewhere later and work."

The disabilities board helps 922 adults and children in York County every day. Yet only about 10 percent of those people are able to work. And this store, an idea that pays for itself, has helped more than a third of them already try to build a future of their own. All they need at Mulligan's -- named after that phrase in golf where you get a second chance -- are donations and customers to keep working.

All they need now is you.