St. Vincent de Paul thrift store to rebuild, continue helping Lake Street neighborhood

| June 3, 2020 | 0 Comments

Debris is piled up in front of the Target store on Lake Street the day after it was looted during protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Vowing to rebuild and help the surrounding community do the same, Ed Koerner, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul-Twin Cities, and Wayne Bugg, associate director, said their first priority is not their ransacked, nonprofit thrift store near Lake Street in Minneapolis, but getting food to those in need.

“We are in this for the long haul and we will not draw back,” Bugg said June 2. “We will do more. By the grace of God and this community, we will meet every need that we can.”

They spoke in the wake of protests, fires and looting along Lake Street in Minneapolis set off by the May 25 police-custody death of George Floyd on 38th and Chicago Ave. S. Located about a mile east of that incident, the Society’s store on 12th Avenue less than a block from Lake Street had two windows broken May 26, but rioters returned May 27 and the place was looted and ransacked, a half-dozen televisions stolen, racks turned over, every window broken and glass shelving and goods shattered.

Closed since March 19 because of the coronavirus pandemic and readying to open up again June 1, the store now is slated to re-open in late June, when items are replaced and the store tidied up. Meanwhile, food and other essential items are being made available at scheduled times in the store’s parking lot, and food distribution to parishes and other organizations continue around the Twin Cities and at the Society’s warehouse in Minneapolis. Parking lot distributions and other information can be found on the Society’s website.

And Koerner, who is white, and Bugg, who is African American and also the manager of the Minneapolis store, remain undeterred. They have the help of insurance and wonderful donors. They will rebuild. Koerner said he is more worried about the impact the looting has had on small restaurants and other business owners along Lake Street. Some won’t have the necessary insurance. Many residents don’t have proper access to food because nearby grocery stores were heavily damaged and temporarily closed and many gas stations were shut down, making it more difficult for residents to drive elsewhere to meet their needs, he said.

Koerner said one regular donor to the store, Bix Produce in Little Canada, applied for and received a federal grant to help provide food to the Society in the Twin Cities in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Through that grant and its relationship with Bix, St. Vincent de Paul, which also has a thrift store in St. Paul, will help distribute as many as 15,000 packages of produce through June, each designed to feed a family of four for a week. They include 10 pounds of potatoes, three pounds each of onions, apples and oranges, as well as Romaine lettuce and carrots.

The first shipment of those packages came on May 26, the same day the protests began along Lake Street, Koerner said.

The thrift store in Minneapolis has been in the neighborhood for more than 25 years and helped stabilize and improve the area. It’s a place people earning $10 an hour can buy a pair of jeans for $1, stop for a cup of coffee and some conversation, Koerner said. It carries everything from books to clothes to kitchen ware and appliances. But the biggest need now is for packaged foods, diapers, infant formula, feminine hygiene products, soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes.

“There is no place to buy any of that” in the decimated neighborhood, Koerner said. “Cash, too, helps, but that’s not what is at the forefront right now.”

Bugg said people of faith helped put thrift store where it is and they keep it running, and more help is needed now.

“It’s not an accident we are here,” he said. “We are supposed to be the light on the hill.”

Koerner said he and Bugg boarded up the two windows that were broken May 26 and hoped things would settle down. Still, Koerner said he saw enough damage in the Lake Street area to make him weep. “I wasn’t prepared for what I saw,” he said. “I saw a 25-year project to rebuild the neighborhood we love gone to ruin. Just decimated.”

Koerner said he went home to his wife and cried.

Violence on the night of May 27 was worse, and Koerner saw people inside when he stopped at the store the morning of May 28. They weren’t ransacking the shop. Just the opposite. They were sweeping, picking up store shelving, trying to set things right. It was the principal and several teachers from nearby Hope Academy; Bugg is a member of the school’s board, and they came to do a favor, Koerner said.

“It literally put a lump in my throat,” Koerner said, adding that other volunteers provided similar help to businesses across Lake Street. That help feeds hope, he said.

“Humanity is amazing.”

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