In the center of downtown Swedesboro on Kings Highway, you’ll find two unique thrift shops a few doors apart.
One sells clothing and accessories, including blazers, sportscoats, and special occasion dresses, and the other sells furniture, lamps, books, and small appliances. Both also offer home décor, holiday items, and jewelry.
A shopper never knows what kind of interesting finds will turn up on the floors or shelves of the donated items at either King Things location. But unlike most purchasing experiences, shoppers are assured that the proceeds will go to helping their neighbors in need.
Both non-profit thrift shops support the Kings Things food pantry, which has been aiding area residents since its founding in 1983. 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. The pantry currently feeds about 2,000 people per year.
All items for sale have been donated, and proceeds directly fund the shop’s overhead (bills are around $6,000/month with rent being the biggest expense), the food pantry, and the financial assistance offered to clients.
The pantry is a member of the Food Bank of New Jersey, and some aid comes from state and federal programs. The pantry also receives food donations from Zallie’s Gibbstown ShopRite, Woodbury Walmart, Beckett Acme, the Church of Latter-Day Saints in Logan Township, warehouse surplus from the Pureland Industrial Complex, and private individuals.
Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, Kings Things volunteers pick up food that has reached its “best by” sell date from the ShopRite and Walmart.
During the last several local growing seasons, fresh Jersey produce has been provided by Maccherone Fruit Valley Farms in Woolwich Township and another generous area produce warehouse.
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.
And, every one of the employees at Kings Things is a volunteer.
One of those volunteers offering tireless support is Chairman of the Board, Gerry Siglow, who has been involved with the organization since its founding. A resident of Logan Township and retired senior loan officer and mortgage broker, Siglow explained his 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.”
“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, with a program called ‘benevolence.’ The needs can range from utility bills, rent, heating costs, and even funeral expenses,” he added.
“In September of 2022 we provided $2,500 to clients for water/sewer service that was in danger of being shut off.”
Siglow also explained that Kings Things will act as a conduit between their clients and county, state, or federal agencies when certain challenges arise. Examples would be immigration issues, help entering the labor force, and mental health counseling.
With the recent retirement of its general Manager, Carl Rainear, Kings Things has expanded its management staff so more work can be done by a larger group of co-management volunteers.
Woolwich Township resident, Marilyn O’Rourke-Young, is now the manager of the furniture/book shop, and is a retired high school math teacher and current high school and college math tutor. Marilyn also designs the décor and sets up the new window displays at both shops, which has been successful at attracting customers off the street.
Food pantry responsibilities are now being managed by Meredith Cachuela of Logan Township, a retired IT specialist, and Joe Rondelline of Woolwich Township, a retired Air Force pilot.
The clothing shop, requiring the most labor to sort and hang garments, is now run by three co-managers. Logan Township resident, Betty Lemk, a retired nurse who is also active in the Swedesboro-Woolwich fire department, is one of the co-managers.
Swedesboro resident Lynn Gaskill is a retired retail worker and another co-manager of the clothing shop, whose skills have helped her decrease the inventory by reducing prices.
The most active co-manager is Swedesboro resident Gretchen Kunkle, who works six shifts per week at the clothing shop, mostly sorting and hanging apparel. Kunkle feels fortunate to be able to help community members in times of need.
“I am grateful that I’ve never needed help, and I like to be there for those who do need it,” she stated.
Other prominent volunteers include the Morris family of Swedesboro. Mom Debbie is a retired health care worker, and dad Tom and son Chris are current electricians who help with needed maintenance at the shops and coordinate the pantry donation pickups at various locations.
Logan Township resident, Jo-Ann Dunn, is a retired sales manager who handles the organization’s accounts and finances.
This Thanksgiving, Kings Things held a “drive-through” donation pick-up at St. Clare of Assisi in Swedesboro on Nov. 19. Turkeys, sides, and dessert makings were provided. The event was sponsored by Acme Markets, People for People, and the Total Experience Foundation.
Bernadette Blackstock is on the Board of the Total Experience Foundation, and is the CEO of People for People, which started as a Rotary Club project in Mullica Hill and is now based in Clayton.
“This is part of the biggest Thanksgiving meal give-away in my history,” began Blackstock.
This “Turkey and Trimmings” event provided 1,000 family turkey dinners of which Kings Things was one of seven food bank recipients.
“Kings Things does such a great job helping the community,” began Blackstock. “We have partnered with Gerry [Siglow] for a lot of different events. He has helped feed people at Camp Salute [a veteran-preference low-income community] and we wanted to reciprocate.”
“We like giving back to the agencies that have helped us in the past,” she added.
In addition to the year-round pantry services and Thanksgiving meals, Kings Things also provides a robust Christmastime package to its clients, including meals and children’s gifts. This program is now coordinated by Joanna Gahrs, a retired bank manager and school administrator who is a current member of the Swedesboro Council.
This year, Kings Things is helping as many needy families as possible have a plentiful winter holiday, but Siglow is afraid that the tradition may not continue. The organization is facing multiple challenges and may need to suspend or end the annual program that helps area families during this important season.
For the past 22 years, donations were stored at the St. Clare of Assisi Faith Formation Building, but Kings Things organizers were told that this year and going forward, St. Clare will not be available to store donations until Dec. 13, requiring three tons of valuable food to be moved twice by Kings Things’ volunteers.
Also, on that same day, volunteers will need to sort the food, a full day later than what is normally needed to give them ample time for the task before packing on the Dec. 14, sorting gifts on the Dec. 15, picking up turkeys on the Dec. 16, and delivering the meals and gifts on the Dec. 17.
Even with pick-up at area schools and delivery help being promised by Amazon, UPS, Home Depot and Cardinal Health, Kings Things may not be able to continue this program unless St. Clare can be re-secured, as it is likely the only location with the facilities needed for this type of operation.
Kings Things is also in desperate need of more volunteers, especially to help work the clothing thrift shop.
“I work 5 to 6 days a week because we are so short-handed,” said Kunkle.
“We need people to sort clothing donations. Even those with busy schedules can contribute one, 3 hour shift a week. The shift hours are 10 to 1, 1 to 4 or 4 to 7, Monday through Saturdays, except Saturdays when we close at 4,” she added.
Siglow added that the three “T’s” are needed by Kings Things: Time (volunteers), Treasure (donations), and Talent (specialized skills like grant writing).
Potential volunteers can visit the shop during business hours.
Kunkle also asks community members to be considerate when making donations.
“Please do not leave items in front of the door, but bring donations inside during shop hours,” she began.
“We also ask that people do not donate broken items, stained or ripped clothing, or expired food for the pantry.”
There’s a lot of need in the community, but there are also a lot of helpers, explained Siglow.
“In my life there have been three living saints, Saint Catherine Botto, (her son Robert is in training), Saint Jean Garozzo (aid to county commissioner Denice DiCarlo) and St. Barbara Siglow who has tolerated me for all these years, and without her, I would not be able to do this,” he concluded.
Kings Things clothing thrift shop is located at 1402 Kings Highway in Swedesboro, and its sister furniture shop is located at 1420 Kings Highway. You can also find Kings Things on Facebook.
By Colleen Woods-Esposito