“Every day’s like Christmas; I get to unwrap lots of things,” says Jean Ann Pike, 58, Lawrence Social Service League thrift shop’s only paid employee.
“I have the best time sorting through bags of donations and seeing people’s faces light up when they get something that makes a difference in their lives,” she says.
For one person, that difference might be getting decent clothes and shoes to attend job interviews or meet the dress code at the first job they’ve found since becoming homeless. For another, it may be getting basic items to furnish the family’s single room.
Pike empathizes with people who struggle. She was 5 when her family moved from Lawrence to Nebraska because of her father’s job. She says she struggled to fit in at school in Fremont, Neb.
“I left school before my senior year; they didn’t know about attention deficit disorder back then,” she says. “I didn’t know I had it until recently, and lots of things now make sense.”
She married at 17, had three children, divorced and did a variety of jobs to make ends meet. Things changed when she attended a gardening party in 1976.
“The strangest thing happened,” she says laughing. “This guy just appeared at the end of a balloon string. We struck up a conversation and started dating.”
She married David in 1977, and they farmed near Marysville, Neb.
“David’s my rock, and he’s taught me so much, especially how to have fun and find pleasure in work,” she says.
In 1990, college education became a family affair. Pike and her husband joined daughter Fadra at Emporia State University.
“We and our two kids were both in college, and we were home-schooling our youngest,” Pike says. “It was hectic, but we all completed our degrees.”
She graduated with a fine arts degree in 1994, moved to Lawrence in 1996 and discovered the thrift store, located at 905 R.I.
“I was completely bowled over on my first visit,” she explains. “I kept repeating: ‘Wow! These people really get it.’ They ensure poor folks can keep their pride while having their needs met.”
Pike volunteered in the store, joined its board of directors and accepted the paid position in 2001.
She’s responsible for the store’s day-to-day operations, including the organization of volunteers and janitorial work. She also does some fundraising and public speaking.
“I do mostly everything that’s needed except pay the bills,” she says.
She’s organized the store into five main areas — clothing, furniture, children’s toys, books and food. Her in-store sign says: “Price depends on content and attitude,” and she insists that everyone shows a respectful attitude.
Pike says money is expected in payment for luxuries, but needs are exchanged for labor such as unpacking bags and boxes, hanging up clothes and other numerous tasks needed to run the place.
“We all need help and support at some stage in our lives,” she says. “I’m privileged to be part of this great place. I receive more than I give.”