Anne Hailes: Great relief that charity shops are open again


Brendan McKernan, chairman of the St Vincent de Paul regional retail committee, with ‘neighborhood volunteer’ Geraldine O’Donnell modeling the fashion for the charity’s boutique on Antrim Road in Belfast

“EVERYTHING from a needle to an anchor.” It was once the pride of old-fashioned hardware stores, which carried all manner of merchandise long before stores specialized.

St Vincent de Paul is a bit like that – maybe not a needle or an anchor, but many other things.

It is a great relief that the charity shops are reopening. People depend on them to donate items that are no longer wanted or, more importantly, to purchase items that are needed but on budget.

But what do these stores want? I visited the St Vincent de Paul north region office and a thriving boutique on Antrim Road in Belfast, where I met Brendan McKernan, chairman of the regional retail committee. It was a fascinating conversation.

I wanted to know if they are inundated with donations now that people are still on the go.

“We had an abundance of clothing donated after the first lockdown – particularly difficult as we have to quarantine everything for 72 hours before they enter the store, so it’s piled up,” Brendan says.

“However, it is a quick turnaround when the store is open and this time we are doing better and welcoming donations.”

He explained that during the lockdown there was only limited clothing purchases, which means most people keep what they have and therefore there is not the same volume of donations.

The whole purpose of Saint Vincent de Paul is to look at what is needed. We visit hospitals, homes and families, we have retiree groups and vacation homes-Brendan McKernan

Should the clothes be in good condition, washed and ironed? “Clean, yes, but not necessarily ironed” was the answer, because everything is steamed before getting on the rails.

They don’t sell damaged clothing, so what if a bag has items that don’t fit on the rails?

“Don’t worry – we’ll take anything and what we can’t use, rather than going to the landfill and sticking to our green credentials, we’ll sift through and send anything that isn’t suitable for a company. recycling, ”says Brendan.

“Some of the hardware items will go to the third world, the rags will be shredded and while in the past they were excellent for upholstering car seats, they are more often treated and used for soundproofing, for soft areas in playgrounds. adventure and mattresses, ”he says.

“We would appreciate it if people would put damaged clothing and bedding in a separate bag and mark them for recycling, which saves us time.”

Although the store network has only been around for 30 years, the St Vincent de Paul charity has been on the move in Ireland since the days of the famine in the early 1840s.

The First Nordic Conference, as employee and volunteer groups are called, was established in Enniskillen in 1846 to support those struggling for food and the basic necessities of life. The same philosophy is very much alive today.

You can find just about anything in a shop in St Vincent de Paul, including dolls


“We are doing what is necessary. Our main objective is to examine what is necessary,” says Brendan.

“We visit hospitals, homes and families, we have retiree groups and vacation homes.”

St Vincent de Paul also organizes social events, visits prisons and organizes educational programs.

“The most important is our home visit which was difficult during the isolation,” says Brendan.

But not impossible: thanks to video and voice calls, they stay in touch with families and people living alone.

At Christmas, rather than leaving people alone and miserable, some volunteers took stools and went from house to house and talked through the window and left gifts: “There is so much seclusion that we want. be a good neighbor.

Of course, it’s not just the clothes in the stores: books, bric-a-brac, furniture and upholstery are all there to browse.

The books are interesting and there are thousands of them in the 33 outlets across Northern Ireland.

“Volunteers are experienced in what to look for, we had a first edition recently which was valued at £ 400 so we’re all waiting for a Harry Potter first edition,” says Brendan.

A farmer brought a full tea set from Royal Doulton because, before he died, his wife made him promise that the porcelain would go to St Vincent as he would not need it.

It was £ 200 which was enough for a cot and bedding for a child. Often a young couple arrives with the desire to furnish their first home but without enough money to go shopping in city and town stores.

Here they can find the works – beds and tables, plates and duvet covers, sofas and milk jugs. Even small children can find the perfect doll to take home and love.


In downtown stores, prices may be higher than outside the city in order to cover expenses.

In the small outlets, the prices are adapted to the region. Again, it’s all about the balance: if someone comes in and buys everything around them – maybe an owner furnishing a number of apartments, although that’s not why St Vincent is there – all the money earned will be reinvested in the charity and the vital work. they do.

Is there something they don’t want? “Electrical appliances, stoves, televisions, blinds, but not lamps and car seats, for example, because we have no way to test,” says Brendan.

“We cannot take any furniture that does not have a fire retardant label.”

Above all, St. Vincent de Paul is a caring organization, no matter what your beliefs or background.

Many customers call several times a day to browse and chat. They consider the charity to be part of their family and so do those who run the charity – around 2,500 volunteers across Ireland, and more are welcome as long as they are over 16 years old.

The Society of St Vincent de Paul is a large organization and the Yearbook 2020 has just been released and is going into detail. This can be picked up at any of their stores.

If you would like to talk to someone about your situation, for example advice on benefits or financial difficulties or to find out where your nearest store is, call the regional office on 028 9035 1561. More details on

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