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 | By Carla Smith

Thrifting for a good cause at St. Vincent de Paul Store

St. Vincent de Paul once said, “Don’t think it’s a small thing to be devoted to the relief of those in distress” and he believed that “The practice of charity is to be preferred to all other exercises.” It is through these principles that Austin’s St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store serves those in need. Located a few blocks west of I-35 on Braker Lane, the store is a neighborhood treasure and one whose reach continues to grow.

“The neighbors in need in this area of Austin were key components for our location here,” said Store Manager Rick Bologna. “This store means so much to the neighborhood and may be the only place some of our neighbors shop.”

The store currently serves upwards of 3,500 people a month. Bologna became the manager in October 2020 after the pandemic had taken its toll.

“I saw … vision and endless possibilities of what this store could be with some fine tuning. Volunteers did an amazing job of keeping hope alive, and we have truly brought this store back to life,” Bologna said. “This has been a true team effort with God leading the way. He has provided the pathway for success through ideas … key hires … and even the providing of free fixtures for our store.”

The gift of time

Volunteers are indeed the heartbeat of the store. Long-time volunteer Mary Lou Gibson, who started volunteering when the store was on South Congress, offered a tour of the store. Gibson treasures her visits with customers and makes them feel at home much like the store’s namesake, who has inspired her for many years.

“St. Vincent de Paul inspires me because he met the people who needed help and had personal contact with them. I, too, like to ask our customers how they found us and how I can help them,” she said.

The store’s hours are Tuesday-Saturday from 10-5 p.m., and it’s open to anyone. Donations are accepted Tuesday-Saturday from 10-4 p.m., and the store also has a pickup service for large items. Monetary donations can be made at the store or by mail. 

On Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon the Community Outreach program distributes food to nearly 500 families every week. All of this takes a dedicated team to ensure the needs of every single person are met. 

Pantry Coordinator Mina Davis considers it an honor and privilege to serve those in need. 

“There are no ZIP code or income limits for who we are here for,” she said.

Food and produce are donated by various entities, but 90% of store donations come from loyal donors. The store is always seeking donations of furniture, clothes, household goods, books, jewelry and many other gently used items. It is a popular place with neighbors in need, people wanting to stretch their dollars, and treasure hunters looking for the big find, all of whom mingle and shop together.

The thrifting culture

“Thrifting crosses all social classes, and we are the best-kept secret in Austin,” Bologna said. “Our donors and shoppers alike know the St. Vincent de Paul brand. Shoppers appreciate our quality and low cost, and donors appreciate their goods going to a great cause.”

All proceeds from store sales go to helping those in need through the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the 41 SVDP conferences in parishes throughout the Diocese of Austin. Programs offered include rental and utility assistance, bus passes, low-cost prescriptions, snack bags and clothing giveaways. There is also a voucher program, in which SVDP conferences in parishes collaborate with the main council store to provide vouchers for store purchases. A similar store has served the Bryan-College Station area for more than 31 years and is also ready and eager to meet the needs of its residents.

Success has provided opportunities for growth, and last October the store went through a major paradigm shift with changes implemented on processes, pricing, merchandise appearance, store layout and other adjustments. By February of this year the fruits of their labor were seen, and now the hope is to hit the million-dollar store level next year. 

“We still have goals to reach, but we are now at a phase where we can begin doing fun things and adding finer touches rather than just operating a store and hoping it all works out,” Bologna said. “Believe me when I say this is a total team effort between paid staff and volunteers. Our customers feel this turnaround in attitude, culture and the ability to shop for their needs and wants at fair pricing all under a culture of dignity and respect.” 

During a recent tour of the store, one customer did not hesitate to convey her appreciation for everything the store does and offers. 

“I have shopped at and donated to the store for many years,” she said. “I’m not a religious person per se, but I love their mission, their kindness, and the respect they show everyone.”

History of service

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul was started in 1833 in Paris, France; was established in the U.S. in 1845 in St. Louis, Missouri; and was founded in 1963 in Central Texas. Today there are more than 800,000 members on five continents and more than 900 members in Central Texas. Austin’s St. Vincent de Paul Store opened in 1950 on Sixth Street, later moved to South Congress and is now flourishing on Braker Lane. It’s reach continues to grow.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVDP) is ready to offer a helping hand to those in need at the store and through the 41 conferences across Central Texas. Vincentians believe everyone is made in the image and likeness of God, and they serve in hope because they are called to bring the love of God to those who are poor and suffering, Bologna said. 

“We are a ministry and a business,” he said. “Through the work at SVDP, we see so many who don’t have even the basic needs in their lives. We cherish the opportunity to help them each and every day. God has put us here for a reason and this makes us all very aware of the blessings in our own lives but also the need to serve others.”

For more information on the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, visit or call (512) 251-6995. To contact the Austin store, call (512) 442-5652.

Carla Smith has been a writer for Catholic Spirit since 2016. A long-time Austinite, she and her husband are members of Santa Rosa Parish in Andice. They enjoy spending time with their daughter and their three dogs, as well as fellowship, golf and football.