Downtown thrift store is ‘hidden gem’

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Considered a “best-kept” secret on South Center Street, Area Churches in Action (ACIA) thrift store is a thriving non-profit organization that has sold items to help the community for nearly four decades.

Though its location has changed over time, its mission has been the same: serve those in need.

“A lot of people say to me ‘where do you work’ and I say ‘the ACIA thrift store in Mount Olive’ and they tell me they’ve ‘never heard of it before,’” said Roberta Copple, who began volunteering with ACIA in 2015.

“Ladies from 13 churches, sort of like the 13 colonies, started a little store to give away clothes and it’s bloomed from there. It started in the 1980s and moved over here to South Center when a tornado came through and destroyed the building over by Pizza Village.

“I remember that day because I was sitting at work in the dark with no power.”

The one-story building provides a department-store atmosphere for the shopper.

There’s clothing and shoes for infants, children, women and men.

Household items such as lamps, dishes, candles, books and other knick-knacks are available.

Toys fill shelves in the back.

Each area in the store has its own volunteer who moves merchandise to change with the seasons, much like any retail store.

“It’s an awesome place for families to come get clothes for their kids,” said Charles Mclendon, a retired resident from Dudley who volunteers alongside his wife, Linda.

But ACIA does much more behind the scene.

Donations and profits from sales are used to help families pay their rent, utility and water bills, purchase medications, get heating oil and food. The group partners with

Helping Hands United Missions Ministries to provide food and are particularly busy during the holiday season.

Eldress Lula Newkirk said Helping Hands on 113 Smith Street joined ACIA to distribute food since there’s no additional space at the current building downtown.

Open three days a week during afternoon hours, she said the ministry delivered 200 food boxes last Christmas.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, ACIA and Helping Hands reached more than 1,000 people — individuals and families — in 2020.

“I just love to give back to the community,” Newkirk said. “During the week, they come in as they need it. I enjoy the people who receive it, they seem so pleased and happy, so I enjoy seeing their reaction. That’s a blessing.”

Copple, Mclendon and David Chesnutt said the store became inundated with clothing and other items while residents remained home during the early stages of the pandemic. They downsized their homes and donated items to ACIA.

Some remain in storage, others were passed along to Mission of Hope.

Mclendon joked that the back room, which also has an upstairs storage area, was difficult to walk through due to the overflow of donations.

Copple said additional volunteers are needed.

ACIA is open each Friday and Saturday for 10 total hours. COVID protocol remains in place, so shoppers are limited inside and can peruse an outdoor yard sale while they wait to enter the store.

“It gives me a great pleasure and a peace of mind because I feel like I’m doing what I should be doing,” said volunteer Becky Scott. “I worked for years and years. When I retired, I always wanted to do something to give back to the community and this is what it is.

“I love it.”

Copple asked that if anyone wishes to volunteer so the store can reopen on Thursdays in the future, please call 919-581-7989.

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