Society of St. Vincent de Paul-Indianapolis Archdiocesan Council, Inc.

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The Runway of Retail

By Paul Ainslie, President, SVdP Indy

The term “runway” can bring many images to mind. When it’s Fashion Week in New York, we see images of glamorous models in surprisingly creative outfits on the runway in fashion shows. Back when air travel was easy and safe for everyone, being on the runway meant you were on your way to a destination, or returning home. A third meaning for runway incorporates both ideas—being creative and taking off. What I’m talking about is using our Mission 27 retail stores as a runway to so many more services at St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP).

Five years ago, the idea of opening a retail store was likely just a glint in then-President John Ryan’s eye.  There were so many good works being done by hundreds of dedicated volunteers. Donors were supportive of all the good works, and the whole organization was running smoothly with minimal overhead costs.

At the same time, under the leadership of Sheila Gilbert (one of our active past presidents), national SVdP began the Changing Lives Forever (CLF) program, which required funding for materials and stipends, training for facilitators, and a mentor program for graduates. Although we obtained grants to launch CLF, it needed to be a sustainable program to grow and be successful—and that requires regular funding. While the program is offered free to the participant (in fact, a small stipend is paid for each class to cover transportation and/or childcare), SVdP would need a steady cash flow to fund CLF.

Nationally, SVdP had retail stores in a few Councils, with Cincinnati being one such council. It didn’t take long for President Ryan to see how such a store could be successful in Indianapolis. All he had to do was start one. But starting a retail operation meant SVdP would need a physical store, a store manager, permits, displays, advertising and a myriad of other needs not necessarily supportable with volunteers only. On the other hand, revenue from the store could help cover these added costs.

So the “runway of retail” has given flight to the SVdP we have today: full time leadership for the Mission 27 Resale stores (yes, two!), the food pantries, the Distribution Center, as well as professional skills in development and finances. The stores, as well as the food pantries and Distribution Center, have all been able to hire CLF graduates to help them on their way to achieve their goals. Without the Mission 27 stores and the generous donors and volunteers working with them, our SVdP of today simply would not have taken off.

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