pinching penniesWhile the country combats a recession, Americans are pinching pennies in the name of survival.

Despite the economic uncertainty, some are rising to the occasion and donating to others.

Mike Hudson, director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Lansing chapter and manager of its thrift store, said people are aware of the struggles facing the less-fortunate and giving what they can.

“People know other people are hurting and they’re coming forward,” he said. “We still need (donations despite the economic state).”

According to Hudson, the Lansing St. Vincent’s de Paul Thrift Store, 1020 S. Washington, saw an increase in sales and donations last year.

As the economic climate continues to worsen, thrift stores such as St. Vincent De Paul are playing a key role in helping local families stave off financial calamity.

In the midst of mounting job losses and rising food costs, those battling lighter pocketbooks are resorting to shopping at second-hand stores.

Hudson said he doesn’t expect the economic storm to calm anytime soon.

With Michigan’s once-thriving auto industry now hemorrhaging jobs, Hudson predicts conditions will worsen before they improve.

A January 26 Lansing State Journal Article revealed that at least 1,200 workers will lose their jobs at the General Motors Delta Township Plant once the company eliminates the afternoon shift.

“It’s going to get worse,” Hudson said. “It’s going to be tougher with people getting laid off.”

Hudson still urges people to give St. Vincent items such as furniture, house ware, and bedding instead of throwing them away.

People who can’t afford the products are sent to St. Vincent by referral agencies and allowed to retrieve the items they need.

“We’re always in need of donations,” he said.

Much like St. Vincent, a Goodwill Industries representative reported a spike in sales last year.

Carol Bush, vice president of the Jackson campus of Goodwill Industries, said revenues began an upward spiral during June or July of last year.

“Our sales have been strong here recently,” she said. “Sales also were very strong over the fall.”

Although area Goodwill locations are selling well, Bush said donations are declining.

Bush attributes the decline to consumer intimidation.

She said some people are having second thoughts about paying top dollar for a new sweater or pair of jeans at expensive retail stores when they can keep wearing what they have.

“Our donations are down,” Bush said. “I think that people are keeping their things because they can’t afford to buy new.”

Goodwill pricing charts on the company Web site indicate that jeans typically cost $4.99, while sweaters are $3.49.

Coats start at $2.99 and boots fall between $4.99 and $9.99.

When those prices are compared to prominent retailers like JCPenney, Bush’s point is clear.

According to the JCPenney Web site, sweaters started at $17.99 ­­ and topped off at $50.

The lowest priced Levi “regular fit” jeans were $22.99 while the most expensive pair were valued at $44.99, almost 10 times the amount of a pair of pre-worn jeans at Goodwill.

Like most, Bush is unsure of what to expect from the economy in the coming months.

“I don’t know. What can be said?” Bush asked.

Although Goodwill and the St. Vincent’s de Paul Thrift Store experienced prosperity in the face of economic turmoil, the Salvation Army Thrift Store, 5206 W. Saginaw Highway, hasn’t been as lucky.

Dedie Mallory, an assistant manager, said sales have been inconsistent at best.

Unlike Goodwill, Mallory said the Salvation Army Thrift Store hasn’t experienced sustained growth on a monthly basis.

“Sales have gone up and down,” Mallory said.

Prices haven’t changed during Mallory’s two-year tenure, so she isn’t sure why the store hasn’t been more successful.

“I know people want to help out as much they can, but they (can’t) give as much,” she said. “I just hope (the economy) gets better for everybody’s sake.”

A January 30 CBS News report said that Americans “fearful of losing their jobs” curbed spending by 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008 while saving increased by 3 percent.

A Helping Hand

In addition to selling used goods, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul aids those who need help paying utility bills.

Hudson said people in danger of missing bill payments apply for assistance with the Department of Human Services.

Human service officials then contact St. Vincent’s and other charity organizations like the Salvation Army and have them to split the costs.

Last year, some 900 families needed bailouts to handle utility payments, almost three times as much as in 2007, Hudson said.

St. Vincent usually paid $200-$250 per family, he said.

Meanwhile, community organizations such as the Cristo Rey Community Center are as useful as ever, said Cristo Rey Director John Roy Castillo.

In 2008, about 20,000 people utilized the center’s various offerings in counseling, healthcare, and employment services.

Castillo said the center provides a security blanket for those who are short on options.

“It’s a basic safety net that we provide for them,” Castillo said.

Although there is an obvious need for Cristo Rey’s initiatives, Castillo said there are no plans to broaden their current services to reach more people.

“We have had to reduce hours for our staff. We’re not thinking about expanding,” he said. “We received a few (funding) cuts, so we’re tightening our belts in anticipation of (more of) them. I hope the economy turns around soon.”