In Downtown Swedesboro, a Beacon of Hope for Those in NeedOctober 31, 2019
Three young siblings happily browse through the shop, picking up toys, clothes, and shoes. Their mother directs them with a “yes,” a “no,” and a “maybe” here and there.
A few years ago, these children would not have been able to shop here at Kings Things Christian Thrift Store. Their mom tells her story.
“I went through a bad divorce. Domestic violence was involved. Some days I did not eat at all so my kids could eat.”
A resident of Swedesboro and a registered nurse by trade, this 41-year-old explained how Kings Things and the volunteers there helped her through a very difficult time of transition.
“My kids and I had everything we needed. I used to donate items to the shop. Now I was there, buying them back. This is how bad things had become.”
When faced with a life-changing trauma, she went back to a place she had helped in the past. Now, she was the one seeking help.
She was given clothes, food, and financial help. But encouragement was probably what she needed the most, and Kings Things volunteer Carl Rainear came through.
“Kings Things is a hidden resource, and they did a lot more than help with bills and food. They genuinely cared about us making it through. Carl was amazing. He really listened, and there was no stigma. He even helped me transition to a new job.”
The mission of Kings Things is to feed and clothe the needy, and it’s been doing that and more since its founding by five Swedesboro churches: St. Claire of Assisi (formerly St. Joseph’s), Trinity Episcopal, Bethesda Methodist, First Baptist, and United Presbyterian.
All of the churches (with the exception of United Presbyterian which is no longer in existence) are still very supportive of the organization. Repaupo United Methodist Church in Swedesboro has also become a key contributor.
Retired retail manager and current manager of Kings Things, Carl Rainear stresses that the organization helps people regardless of religious affiliation. Although founded and supported by Christian churches, religious beliefs are not imposed on recipients, and the needy are given aid regardless of religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
Chairman of the Board of Kings Things, Gerry Siglow, has been involved with the organization since its founding in 1983. A resident of Logan Township and a retired senior loan officer and mortgage broker, Siglow explained his current role.
“I am responsible for the financial health of the organization as well as promoting us to the community. Our mission is to feed and clothe the needy in the area.”
Siglow continued, “We have a food pantry as well as community outreach in which we invest in families, and we do that by aiding them in their financial needs. These needs can range from utility bills, rent, heating costs, and even funeral expenses.”
Kings Things runs two retail shops that are open to the public: a furniture/book shop that also sells small appliances and other household goods, and a clothing shop that also features holiday items.
All items have been donated, and proceeds directly fund the food pantry and the financial assistance offered to clients.
Kings Things is a non-profit organization and all of the staff are volunteers. What the organization takes in, minus expenses, goes back to helping the community.
“Expenses are around $6,000 a month, and the biggest expense is the rent,” explained Siglow. “Monetary donations are used to pay for that and other overhead costs so we can keep the shops and the food pantry running.”
“Financial donators can also earmark how their money is spent by the organization,” added Siglow.
With the population of the immediate area growing in the past few years and a changing demographic, the need for the food pantry has grown significantly.
Kings Things has directly helped six newly homeless families between December 2018 and October 2019. Volunteers counseled and directed the families to help them find homes and offered financial assistance.
The organization also provides financial assistance to continue Atlantic City Electric service for clients whose electricity is in danger of being shut off. “We use whatever connections and leverage we have to help people in this community,” Siglow explained.
Siglow also revealed that the food pantry at Kings Things feeds about 2,000 people per year, and boxes are distributed to qualified recipients on a monthly basis, one per household.
In addition to the monthly distributions, clients can pick up needed provisions during food pantry hours.
Most food pantry items come from private donations, but to fill in the gaps, some necessary items are purchased in order to create appropriate meals for clients and their families.
As a member, Kings Things purchases the majority of its food from the South Jersey Food Bank. While the Food Bank is a private enterprise, it does receive some items through federal and state programs.
Sometimes Kings Things receives grants to help purchase food pantry items, and recently Shop Rite in Gibbstown provided $3,400 in aid. Another recent grant of $1,500 was awarded by the United Way and used to purchase refrigerators.
Zallie’s ShopRite and Walmart have also been generous. Every Wednesday and Friday, Kings Things volunteers pick up food that has reached its “best by” sell date from the Gibbstown ShopRite and the Deptford Walmart.
Rainear added that for several years, fresh Jersey produce has been provided by local farmer Lorry Maccherone of Fruit Valley Farms in Woolwich Township.
“We love being able to provide clients with fresh local fruits and vegetables, and Fruit Valley Farms has always been extremely generous.”
When the Food Bank does not have everything needed to round out the food boxes, volunteers travel to Aldi for the best prices. Vouchers for Botto’s Market are also provided so clients can purchase perishables like milk and eggs.
Those in need should visit Kings Things during business hours and fill out an application. Income requirements follow government poverty level guidelines.
To qualify, bring a recent pay stub, picture identification, and a utility bill with your current address. If you are homeless, visit during business hours and you will get immediate help.
Although it does not happen often, Siglow explained that Kings Things protects itself against those who seek to take advantage. “We have access to a database shared by all of the food pantries in the area, keeping people from collecting at multiple locations.”
In addition to the year-round pantry services, Kings Things also provides a robust Christmas package to its clients.
Swedesboro, Woolwich, and Logan public schools and St. Claire of Assisi Faith Formation School collect and supply items for Kings Things holiday baskets. It’s a large operation, with eight pickup trucks of items provided just from the schools.
The number of Christmas basket items is determined by the size of the recipient family, and include a turkey or roasting chicken, holiday dinner items, and food for a week.
Food items include fresh oranges and apples, and baskets are made complete with a poinsettia plant to provide holiday cheer.
Clients who have been helped by the food pantry throughout the year receive an application for a Christmas basket, as well as anyone who reaches out to request specific help during the season.
As well as the food basket, each child in the family receives at least three Christmas presents. Some senior citizens also receive gifts as well as gifts to give to their grandchildren.
“There’s a lot of personalization based on needs when it comes to the Christmas gifts,” said Siglow.
Kings Things staff often get inquiries from individuals or businesses who wish to adopt a family. If you are interested, contact the shop or Siglow directly at 856-467-3066.
Those who have been helped by the organization can’t offer enough praise, including a resident of Gibbstown who told his story. “Gerry [Siglow] heard we were in need. I was out on a work-related injury, and then my wife became disabled.”
“If it wasn’t for Kings Things, I don’t know what we would have done,” he added.
Both Siglow and Rainear stress that Kings Things could not function without its volunteers. “We are always in need of people to help out,” said Siglow, “We are only as strong as our volunteers. They are our greatest asset.”
Potential volunteers can visit the shop during business hours. Shifts are only three hours each, so even those with busy schedules can contribute. No experience is necessary.
Vivian Larock, a 62-year-old retired payroll administrator and resident of Logan Township, is both a client and a volunteer. Larock explained that when she lost her job a few years ago, her family had a hard time making ends meet.
“The very first time we came to Kings Things, we had no idea what it was about,” she recalled. “We were a wreck, and the person who helped us was so kind, calm, and encouraging.”
“When I found out everyone was a volunteer, I wanted to give back because of how they helped me,” Larock added. “I work a couple of shifts a week in the clothing store and sometimes help with food delivery.”
Alice Whyte, a resident of Mickleton and assistant manager at Kings Things, works six hours a week. “We all have families and other commitments, but I get a lot out of volunteering,” said the 78-year-old great-grandmother.
“I can go in there feeling down and bored and it pulls me away from the mundane part of every day,” Whyte continued. “I leave knowing I gave back. It also gives me the opportunity to meet and connect with new people. I unpack, sort, and hang clothing for the shop during my shifts. I love it. It’s really good for me.”
Joan Calce, another assistant manager at Kings Things, is a retired retail manager and factory worker in her 70’s who has been volunteering for about eight years.
“More seniors should volunteer,” stated Calce. “It helps your mental health. It’s humbling and it makes you count your blessings.”
When asked how community members can help out, Siglow is quick to answer. “It’s the three T’s that we need: Time (volunteer), Treasure (donate), and Talent (specialized skills).
More grants are needed, so when it comes to talent, Kings Things seeks professionals with grant writing experience to help them secure funding. The organization is also in search of volunteers with a background in social work to help counsel clients.
Assistant manager Joan Calce likes to tell an inspiring story. “Sometimes help comes from unexpected places. I was at Aldi purchasing items for the pantry. Another customer in line asked what I was doing, and when he found out the items were for a food pantry, he paid for everything.”
“There are some good people out there,” she confirmed.
Kings Things clothing store is located at 1402 Kings Highway in Swedesboro, and its sister furniture store is located at 1420 Kings Highway. The hours are Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
The food pantry is located at 1402 Kings Highway. The hours are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., and by appointment.
Logan Township residents can also seek help via the township’s food assistance program. For details, residents should visit the Logan Township website or contact Jared Rollins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Colleen Woods-Esposito