From opposition to embrace Matthew 25 thrift shop founder reflects on her 13 years

By on April 17, 2013

By: GARY P. KLINGER Record Express Correspondent, Staff Writer

In the beginning there was opposition.

But now, after nearly 13 years in operation, the success of Matthew 25 is hard to miss. Since its founding, the thrift shop has donated $1,885,418.40 to local churches and Lancaster County non-profit agencies to help with the emergency needs of others.

The popular store at 48 E. Main St. opened for business on Aug. 1, 2000 as a non-profit charity with 66 volunteers. On April 13, founder Nancy Reece retired as store manager, but will continue as a Saturday volunteer.

Reese got the vision for Matthew 25 while she and her husband were living near Medford, N.J., where she worked for 10 years as a volunteer at the St. Vincent DePaul charity shop. And it was there that she began to formulate in her mind how a similar operation could work in a small Pennsylvania town founded in faith.

But, initially at least, the idea of a charity thrift shop in downtown Lititz did not rest well with local residents, some of whom even circulated a petition to try and block Reece from setting up in the downtown business district. The fear at the time was that a thrift shop could have a negative impact on the quaint Lititz setting and detract from its tourist economy.

"There were concerns that such a shop would be unclean, that it would draw people in from the city," Reece recalled. "None of that, of course, turned out to be true. I think today they are now glad that I was undeterred."

Each month the store donates at least $10,000 to charities focused on providing food, medical and other emergency needs of local residents. In March, Matthew 25 donated more than $15,000.

"We donate to all the Meals on Wheels programs, every local community meal program, and we receive referrals for assistance with prescriptions," Reece said, explaining that Matthew 25 does all of its giving through local organizations, not personal referrals. In the case of help with prescriptions, she said in all cases that help is done through referrals from hospitals and social workers.

"We never send money directly to individuals," she said. "People in need must contact their pastor. The pastor can then refer their need to Matthew 25. Any assistance we can offer will be sent to the church."

Matthew 25 is overseen by eight board members who meet monthly to distribute the proceeds from the previous month’s sales and make all financial decisions.

"It took about two years to find the right location, but I knew this was the right spot the minute I walked in," Reece reminisced.

With seed money from the St. James and St. John Newman’s congregations, Reece said they were able to pay back the initial investment within the very first month of operation.

"I was amazed that we were able to pay off the seed money and give money away already the first month," she said. "In fact, by Christmas of that first year we had already given $25,000 away. It was amazing."

Connie Shertzer has been a volunteer with the group for about a year, and with Reece’s retirement she steps into the general manager position. While she acknowledges the huge shoes Reece leaves to be filled, it is a role she said she feels qualified to handle with her background in accounting.

As a lifelong local resident, Shertzer said she had long wanted to own a consignment shop. She has always enjoyed clothing and decorating, so volunteering at Matthew 25 was right up her alley.

For Reece, retirement may take some getting used to. She joked that she looks forward to having time to clean her house, work in her yard and visit her daughters. One of her three daughters is a second grade teacher at Bonfield Elementary School. The other two are a bit further away, one living in Flagstaff, Ariz. and the other in London.

But even in retirement, 13 years of memories will always take her back to 48 E. Main.

"We have a number of regular patrons who come every Tuesday to visit the store, then head on over to Shady Maple for lunch," Reece said with pride. "We also have a number of regular patrons from New York and New Jersey that come to Lititz just to visit this store."

People who come to the store to donate often leave with unexpected purchases. One of Reece’s favorite stories is of a man who donated a tarnished brass lamp. When he came back to the store several days later and saw his old lamp polished and cleaned, he joked that he would donate several more just for the cleaning services.

Ultimately, the success of Matthew 25 boils down to great volunteers.

"We have lots of good helpers," Reece said. "Many have been here for over 10 years. They all take such pride in how the store looks and how it is merchandized."

Reece and Shertzer also pointed out that contrary to local misconception, the Matthew 25 thrift shop is completely independent. It is not operated by any particular church or religious organization, and it is completely ecumenical.

Donations of clothing, small household goods, knick-knacks, books and jewelry are accepted inside the back door during store hours, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon. More MATTHEW 25, page A3