Friday, April 18, 2008


Dreaming, doing and serving: A model for everyone

Anne Hansen

There are those who dream and those who "do." Occasionally, there are dreamers who are also "doers" --- like Fran Pitts, a parishioner of St. John Fisher Church in Rancho Palos Verdes, who dreams big and then does what it takes to make the dream reality.

About three years ago Fran combined years of National Charity League experience, outreach ministry with her parish, an awareness of the needs of the poor and an incredible ability to organize people, into a win-win situation for volunteers and the recipients of the volunteer labor.

She successfully spearheaded the creation of a thrift shop that disburses notable sums of money to over a dozen charitable organizations in the South Bay and greater Los Angeles area. In less than three years the thrift shop --- Palos Verdes Resale --- has raised more than $400,000 for agencies such as the Presentation Learning Center, Saints Peter and Paul Poverty Program, Meals on Wheels, House of Yahweh, House of Hope, Agape, Casa de Angelitos, Daughters of Mary and Joseph, Sisters of Charity, STAR (Society to Air Retarded), Downtown Women's Center, Christian Outreach in Action, and Miller Children's Hospital special fund for infants.

By agreement of the board and volunteers, funds raised through the shop are given to agencies that do not receive federal aid. They pride themselves on giving to "little people," the smaller groups that are often overlooked because they serve fewer needy than larger agencies.

The initial plan took only a year to implement. A board was formed, meetings were held, a good location was researched, legal and business professionals assisted, and the grand opening was held Aug. 23, 2005. Since that day there has been no looking back, only success with organizing and selling whatever comes in by way of donation.

The proceeds, far more than ever dreamed of, are disbursed in a very democratic fashion. Volunteers have a vote in where the money raised is distributed. For every hour worked at the shop, a volunteer has one vote to cast for the charity of his or her choice; more hours served at the shop equals more votes. Each quarter the votes are tallied and the proceeds are disseminated, based on the votes of the volunteers, to those on the established list of charities. This inventive and motivational technique gives each volunteer a feeling of ownership in the sales of the shop and the opportunity to direct financial assistance to a charity that is near and dear to their hearts.

The original volunteers from St. John Fisher continue to support the shop and remain the core of the endeavor, but other parishes and the community at large have now joined their volunteer ranks making this quite a collaborative effort. The day I visited the shop was buzzing with men and women going through boxes of donations to determine what they could sell, what needed to be refurbished and what was to be handed on as free donations to individuals or other charities.

The system of keeping the merchandise moving is both meticulous and amazing. Anything not sold within two weeks is marked down to half-price. Any of these items still unsold after another week are put into a special "Dollar Day" sale that takes place regularly in the parking lot behind the shop. "Dollar Day" draws large crowds and is a surprisingly lucrative part of the shop's revenue.

The volunteers, wonderful workers that they are, acknowledge that they have a higher mission. Fran says they are all aware that they are the face of the Church in the community and they remind themselves often that the kindness, caring and the respect they show all customers are as important as the money they make.

The success of Palos Verdes Resale has not gone unnoticed. It has received several community awards and Fran Pitts, president of the board, was recognized by Bishop Montgomery High School as a graduate who exhibits remarkable Christian service to the community. Retired San Pedro Regional Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Sartoris is a special friend who visits and supports the shop.

Now that the shop is established and doing well, Fran is hoping to advise other interested parishes on how they can open similar shops to serve the poor in their communities, with Palos Verdes Resale serving as a pilot program. The possibilities are exciting.

Palos Verdes Resale is located at 2321 Pacific Coast Highway, Rancho Palos Verdes; contact Fran Pitts at (310) 534-1722. Anne Hansen is a member of the Camarillo Catholic community. Her e-mail address is