Parish thrift store in Alaska raises $1 million for Catholic education


Of all the designer clothes, quirky conversation pieces and valuable antiques that have rotated through Archangel Attic, surely the greatest treasure to come from this modest little thrift shop in south Anchorage is the $1 million in funds it has generated for Lumen Christi High School and Catholic education.

Store manager Mary Manes initially was dubious last fall when her husband speculated that they’d probably raised over $1 million via the thrift shop, which along with the school is a ministry of St. Benedict Church in Anchorage.

“I said, ‘Nah, no way!’ So we looked into it and asked in the [parish] office, and realized how close we were to that goal,” Manes said. “It’s just amazing how much that little store generates.”

“They projected that they would achieve $1 million dollars in February, and they were right on target,” said St. Benedict pastor Father Tom Lilly. “I was stunned. We get the cash bag each day with the proceeds of the day and lock it up to be deposited, and that just quietly goes on without much notice.”

Operated entirely by a cadre of devoted volunteers, including many retired grandmas, the nonprofit has no overhead except utilities and thus gives 100 percent of income to the school. Father Lilly recognized 30-some past and present volunteers at a special banquet in April to celebrate the $1 million milestone and extraordinary contribution to the parish school.

The small plain building on the corner of Lumen Christi’s campus on Jewel Lake Road — almost an A-frame sans attic — belies the curiosities inside as well as the structure’s storied history. It originated as St. Juliana Church in the Spenard area and in the 1960s was transported to its current location, where it was renamed and served as St. Benedict Church until the parish outgrew it. When the new St. Benedict Church opened on the same property in 1979, the little old church building was utilized for religious education and youth gatherings and eventually converted to the Rummage Room thrift store.

That first venture was abandoned during transitional upheaval, still overstocked with secondhand ware when Manes requested permission to revive it circa 2006.

“Whatever was donated was put out for sale [in Rummage Room] — you couldn’t even move in there, it was so jam-packed full,” Manes recalled. “There were rounders with all the clothes stuffed in there, homemade racks on the walls, dressers everywhere, baskets all over.”

Manes, an experienced thrift store volunteer, disposed of damaged items, donated much of the clutter, acquired new flooring and shelving sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and started merchandising.

The former church’s cry room is now the donation intake area; the old confessional is the business office; the sacristy stores out-of-season holiday items; and where the altar once stood is a display of assorted knickknacks. Customers occasionally point out the spot where they were married or their children baptized.

For six years Manes sustained Archangel Attic with limited volunteers and business hours, nonetheless raising about $30,000 per year for the parish school.

Colleen Larson, then acting principal of Lumen Christi, observed with interest.

“I could see that place was a gold mine. And the [Lumen Christi] parents were constantly fundraising,” Larson noted. “I thought if I could just get in there and help out, what we could do with it.”

After filling in three years as Lumen Christi principal, Larson retired again and seized the opportunity to step up as Archangel Attic’s volunteer coordinator and co-manager. With additional volunteers they extended the hours to include more evenings and Saturdays. The annual proceeds surged accordingly, reaching over six figures in recent years.

“I really liked the parish, and it was something to do. I wanted to make money for the school and make some friends,” she said. “It turned out to be a lot stronger mission.”

Larson and Manes, like their core volunteer staff, are motivated to serve the marginalized of society whether to provide affordable clothing and household goods, or lend a compassionate ear during trying times. For clothing, which always is in high demand, they offer an ongoing deal to fill an eight-gallon bag to the limit for $20. Specific needs are mysteriously fulfilled though a phenomenon the volunteers refer to as “declaring it” — wherein if a customer declares he’s seeking a particular item that isn’t in stock, it inexplicably will be donated within about a week.

“Our volunteers just seem to have the spiritual side of this down,” Larson reflected. “This ministry is like part of a divine plan; it always works out —it’s just blessed.”

Archangel Attic is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, plus occasional Saturday evenings. It’s located at 8811 Jewel Lake Road, next to St. Benedict Church and Lumen Christi High School.

'Parish thrift store in Alaska raises $1 million for Catholic education'
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