The Waseca Neighborhood Service Center offers household necessities, clothing, knick knacks, toys and other items at affordable prices for the community of Waseca. Due to the pandemic, the thrift store closed for six months with only the food shelf open, but on Monday, Oct. 5 the Neighborhood Service Center is reopening.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz made an announcement back in mid-March that shut down the thrift store and the board and staff have worked to reopen since.
“We’re excited to be reopening and we’re excited to see everybody and we all want to be safe together in our community thrift store,” Waseca Area Neighborhood Service Center Executive Director Toni Larson said.
A plan to keep customers safe was created to allow for the safest environment possible.
The protocols in place: masks or face coverings are required when in the building by everyone, there will be hand sanitizer stations at the entrance and exit, as well as the counters, counters are wiped between customers, a limited amount of customers are allowed in at a time, no one under 13 is allowed in the thrift store, dressing rooms are closed, the bathroom is closed and social distancing of at least 6 feet is in place.
One improvement to the thrift store Larson highlighted is the use of UV lights throughout the entire building. She said these are important because the lights kill the virus. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website also has information on the effects UV lights have on the virus.
Another protocol in place is the use of separate entrance and exit doors to allow for social distancing.
Customers will enter through the corner door that goes into the book room, unless the customer has a disability or is handicap then they will use the alley door. The alley door is also the exit for all customers.
“We’ve grown leaps and bounds in the 14 years that I’ve been there in all of the areas in the thrift store; in sales, in customer base and the donations are phenomenal from the community,” Larson said. “They’ve been really patient and all of our programs have grown and the need is there, especially now with all that has happened with the pandemic and the job loss. I think our organization is vital to Waseca county.”
The thrift store hours are similar to the regular hours. Mondays and Fridays the store is open 9 a.m.- 5 p.m., Tuesdays-Thursdays 9 a.m.- 6 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m.- 1 p.m.
Along with opening for customers to shop, the thrift store is accepting donations again. Donations are accepted on Thursday, Oct. 1 from 4-7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 2 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 3 from 10 a.m.- 1 p.m.
“On the donation end of it, the staff and volunteers have all had training on the virus,” Larson said. “So we’re planning on making it as safe as we possibly can, maintaining social distancing.”
Donations are taken twice a week going forward to allow volunteers to sort through it all after letting the donations sit quarantined. At this time people are allowed to bring four boxes of clothing and or household items, but no toys or knick knacks will be accepted.
Larson said the Neighborhood Service Center will provide holiday programs, but they are slightly different due to COVID-19. The board and Larson will be working on these programs and how to implement them next month.
While the thrift store was closed, its counterpart the Waseca Area Food Shelf continued to help those in need.
The food shelf continued to accept food and cash donations while allowing customers to come in by appointment to get the food they need.
“The community has been so absolutely generous for the food shelf and we are so thankful with cash donations,” Larson said. “It’ll help with making sure we’re able to feed everybody in need and we really strongly suggest if anyone is in need to make an appointment and come in.”
A grant from the Greater Mankato United Way was received by the food shelf early on for $3,000.
Another program offered by the Neighborhood Service Center and the food shelf is the special needs program through the Greater Mankato United Way. This program is for anyone who lost a job or is affected by COVID-19 to help with utilities. People can call the food shelf in Waseca to apply for the program.
The thrift store received a grant for $3,000 from the Waseca County COVID-19 relief grant program that was created with CARES Act funds.
“Thankfully we’ve (thrift store) been able to maintain for the last six months,” Larson said. “Our general fund we had built up some, so thank goodness we had some reserves. We can’t operate the way that we used to operate, so we had to balance what was best for the long term survivability for the thrift store and that is why we were closed for so long. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to open, we just had to really watch the timing.”