Thrift store benefits more than Alaskans

Posted: Wednesday, August 30, 2000

David and Althea Urinko struck a balance between budget and benevolence in their Soldotna thrift store.

The end result benefitted area customers as well as people in need in Central and South America through the Urinkos work with the Luva Child organization.

The Urinkos owned and operated the Extra Value Thrift Store in Soldotna. David died two years ago, and his wife turned the store over to a new owner May 1. But while they owned the store, they operated it with an eye toward philanthropy, not just profit.

"If you're going to own a second-hand store, it is service and ministry both," Althea Urinko said. "Being a private business, you can't give everything away; it does have to sustain itself. But we still helped people when they burned out or came in and didn't pay enough for everything they needed. We enjoyed very much the ministry aspect of the building."

The Urinkos became familiar with the Luva Child organization through a relationship with its founders. Six years ago they decided to become involved themselves and began a service that has touched the lives of countless people in Peru, Mexico and Haiti.

In 1994, Luva Child sent a shipment of clothes, linens and supplies to Peru to be distributed among orphanages, in shanty towns, hospitals, mental institutions, remote mountain villages and basically anywhere people were in need of the charity's support.

Most of the clothing and linens that made up the shipment came from the Extra Value Thrift Store. The Urinkos sorted the items, packed them up for shipping and donated them to Luva Child.

"The Urinkos have been so instrumental through the years in getting these shipments sent," Luva Child founder and secretary Janiece Knight said. "The shipments have been so meaningful to so many of the children, especially, and the people living in the shanty towns who are so poor they just live from day to day."

Since that first shipment, David and Althea contributed their goods, time and efforts to sending off five others. The last shipment was sent in the spring of 1999 and went to Peru.

"Our daughter got to go down and help (in Peru) and saw what it meant to people firsthand," Urinko said. "We have closets full; they don't. The reward was seeing the joy and thankfulness of the people who received it -- stuff that we wouldn't even wear. They were totally blessed by it."

Many items that came through the thrift store were not, for one reason or another, suitable for retail. Rather than just haul them to the garbage, the Urinkos began boxing and storing them until a shipment was ready to go.

"Working in the thrift store, we had a lot of clothes that weren't quite what our market was looking for," she said. "They were out of style or had a small stain on them. Stuff that didn't sell in the store we pulled off the racks but didn't want to just throw them away."

Instead, they packed their store room and eventually a crate to ship to people less fortunate than they.

"Althea and Dave have worked so hard on the shipment end of it and also have helped financially to get those shipments down," Knight said. "They boxed everything and packed everything and were so careful to send things that were really good. There was no junk sent down."

Putting together a shipment was no easy task for the Urinkos, especially since each shipment weighed about 10,000 pounds, Knight estimated.

"The last time we figured there were at least 500 to 600 boxes in the trailer," Urinko said. "You're talking about big boxes, small boxes, bags -- it was just an astronomical amount of stuff."

They would work at packing boxes a little at a time, pulling clothes off the racks and storing them away, spending perhaps a day at it here and there. When they got word a shipment was cleared to go, they would spend a month to two months getting clothes pulled from the racks and packed up to be sent.

"It was a lot of work," Urinko said. "We just really didn't want to throw it away. There is so much in our society that is excess. We were really happy to find an outlet, somewhere else to take it to."

Luva Child has been in existence since the early 1980s. It started when Knight traveled to Peru and read a newspaper article saying there were 50,000 documented abandoned children in the capital city of Lima alone. When she returned to Soldotna, she began the nonprofit Luva Child organization with her sister, Nina. Luva Child established an orphanage in 1984, which is no longer open, and operates a feeding program in Peru that provides one meal a day to hungry children living on the streets or in shanty towns in Lima, Iquitos and Huayacan. Their efforts are funded by private donations.

Luva Child hopes to continue sending shipments of clothes and supplies to supplement its feeding program but even with the Urinkos' donations and transportation to Seattle being provided by Lynden Transport, the shipments are an expensive undertaking.

"We'll just have to take it a year at a time and just see how it goes," Knight said. "I'm not sure whether we'll have the support we've had before."

Luva Child is hoping to send out another relief shipment in September. The Urinkos' storehouse has around 100 boxes packed up and ready to go if and when the necessary finances are gathered. Urinko estimated she could fill another 400 to 500 more with the clothes she's got left in storage.

"(This shipment) is kind of a memorial for David," she said. "We had to earn a living, but it was David's heart always to serve the community. He felt that he did that best through the store. It was his life work that he felt ... proud of."

According to Urinko, the new owner of the Extra Value Thrift Store is interested in continuing clothes donations for the relief shipments. But after her husband's death and selling the store, this will be Urinko's last time participating.

"After getting this last shipment together, I will be finished," she said. "We felt blessed to be able to help people. We shared a lot with them, and they shared of their lives with us. There was good give-and-take on both sides. We totally enjoyed it."

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