Volunteer seniors staying away from Grand Forks thrift store during pandemic

The store has reduced hours and no longer opens on Saturdays.

A Grand Forks non-profit is operating under a skeleton crew after local anxiety over the potential spread of COVID-19 saw its volunteer staff drop by more than a half.

Less than half of Grand Forks Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store volunteers came back to work at the shop since it re-opened in July. (Laurie Tritschler - Grand Forks Gazette)

Less than half of Grand Forks Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store volunteers came back to work at the shop since it re-opened in July. (Laurie Tritschler - Grand Forks Gazette)

Of the 93 volunteers at the Grand Forks Hospital Auxiliary Thrift Store, around 40 have come back since it re-opened in July, according to the store’s assistant treasurer, Sharon Kennesey.

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Helping out at the thrift store has been a fixture of many area seniors’ lives, Kennesey said from behind a plastic barrier by the cash register. An overhead sign says the store has donated “equipment for patients’ comfort and care” at Boundary Hospital worth upwards of $2.8 million dollars since the year 2000.

“A lot of girls have been here over the years,” said store volunteer, Jo Balazs. (Laurie Tritschler - Grand Forks Gazette)

“A lot of girls have been here over the years,” said store volunteer, Jo Balazs. (Laurie Tritschler - Grand Forks Gazette)

But their age demographic is at a high risk of contracting COVID-19, and many volunteers have decided to stay away from the store until the pandemic is under control.

Assistant treasurer Sharon Kennesey said she estimates the average age of volunteers is 70. (Laurie Tritschler - Grand Forks Gazette)

Assistant treasurer Sharon Kennesey said she estimates the average age of volunteers is 70. (Laurie Tritschler - Grand Forks Gazette)

“Our volunteers have to feel safe and comfortable. It’s all about the volunteers: That’s why we ask the public to wear a [face] mask and sanitize their hands when they come in.”

“We’re careful,” she stressed.

To that point, the stores allows a maximum of 10 customers at a time. Walk-in’s are met by store greeters whose job it is to make sure that shoppers sanitize their hands and wear a face mask — their own face masks, Kennesey told the Gazette. The store does not provide masks.

Customers are asked to wear face masks and sanitize their hands as they come in. (Laurie Tritschler - Grand Forks Gazette)

Customers are asked to wear face masks and sanitize their hands as they come in. (Laurie Tritschler - Grand Forks Gazette)

Store running reduced hours over fewer days

“The girls” (and the few men) who are volunteering are doing their best to do the work of a full staff. But, following COVID guidelines has added greatly to the work that has to be down, and the store has had to cut its weekly hours and close on Saturdays.

Meanwhile, no one can try on outfits because there are not enough volunteers to sanitize the store’s fitting rooms.

Kennesey said everyone at the store greatly values their clients’ loyalty.

To make it easier on their regulars, the store no longer requires that people book ahead of time to make donations.

The store closes half an hour earlier during the week, shutting its doors at 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.


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