Success in West County

Jan Falcon
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Jan Falcon was at the center of a pivotal moment for the St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores.

Eight years ago, the society was operating just two locations — one at its old headquarters on Forest Park Avenue and a small shop in St. Charles. As the society began to look toward expanding on the thrift store program, it turned to parishes in the West County area in search of volunteers. When the store opened on Manchester Road in West County in 2010, it drew more than 145 volunteers from about eight parishes.

Falcon was hired as the store manager. Within a year, the place was teeming with volunteers and donations. "On Saturdays, you couldn't walk into the back because of all the donations," she said. "We thought, what do we do with all this stuff?" They began transporting overage to the south St. Louis store on Christy Boulevard, which opened in late 2010. Donations are turned around and brought to other locations that have a greater need.

Earlier this year, the West County store moved about two miles east on Manchester Road, into an old golf supply store. The square footage is about the same as the old location, said Falcon, but there's more sales floor space and less "back" area for receiving donations.

The store is expected to exceed a million in sales this year. Stores serve several purposes: to offer items to the community at a reasonable price, especially helping those in need; to provide income for store employees, many of who are or have been in need; and to provide a portion of the infrastructure to support 3,540 Vincentian volunteers. The stores also help cover administrative costs, which allows 100 percent of separate financial donations to go directly to those in need.

Falcon is overwhelmed thinking about the people who have been served, as well as the volunteers who spend their time there, from teenagers with special needs to retirees. She always reminds those helping to treat all donations with the greatest amount of respect, no matter what the quality.

"I tell them, this is really important stuff that people are dropping off," she said. "It's hard for some people, especially if they've lost a loved one. People want to know the things they're giving are going to help someone."

Falcon said that what pulls at her heart the most is "all of the ways you can help people without even knowing it." Every Monday, a volunteer with special needs comes in to help display shoes "and she cannot even come in the door without hugging me." Falcon also shared a story of a friend who came in seeking new clothes for her husband who lost a large amount of weight during an illness. Falcon didn't charge her for the clothing.

"She came in and she cried when she checked out," she said. "Where can you get that kind of reward? My volunteers are so good to me. They talk to me like I'm their very best friend. They get excited about coming in every week. It's never boring here. There are a lot of friends here." 

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