RED WING - Over the past 25 years, the Wise Penny Thrift Store has generated more than $1 million to benefit churches, schools and other area ministries.

All of it represents proceeds from reselling items that were donated to the store.

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And none of the money raised at the store is spent for salaries. The entire workforce, including the leadership, is strictly volunteer.

Wise Penny, a nonprofit organization, was established in 1993. The inspiration for it came from a similar store in North St. Paul. A Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church in Hastings promoted the idea, and Red Wing was chosen as a good location.

Thirteen participating WELS churches span Goodhue County and beyond - from Hastings to Lake City, plus locations inbetween.

Funds raised through the store are distributed among 22 recipients - the churches, five area parochial schools, St. Croix Lutheran Academy, Lutheran Chapel of the Air, Lutheran Institutional Ministry Association and Jesus Cares Ministries.

The original store was on the east side of Bush Street. About five years ago Wise Penny moved to a larger location on West Third Street, and two years ago it moved to 206 Bush St., Red Wing

This is the largest and best location yet, according to board member Linda Brusehaver and Pauline Jagusch, who is in charge of scheduling volunteers.

Large display windows and lots of foot traffic are bonuses, volunteers agreed, plus there are two work spaces where workers sort and price donations. They do most of their stocking and displaying on Tuesdays, so that's the busiest day.

"This retail space is four to five times larger" than the last location, Treasurer Charlie Palla said. "We've increased sales by 23 percent," enabling them to disburse more than $80,000 a year.

Jagusch said more than 150 volunteers, men and women, come from all the churches and from all over the area to work at the store. They are asked to volunteer at least once a month; many work more frequently.

"We have a lot of caring people who want to help out," she said. "Anyone can volunteer."

The store is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday in the summer; it closes at 4 p.m. during winter.

The store has two managers - currently Judy Thumann and Carol Dankers - and a six-member board of directors, plus the scheduler.

They meet monthly under pastoral guidance, Brusehaver said to discuss business and designate gifts.

All of the merchandise is donated. "Overall," Jagusch said, "there's something in the store that everyone finds."

Although they don't have room for large furniture or electronics, the store is filled with clothing, shoes and accessories for all ages; dishes, household items and small appliances; books, toys, games and puzzles; linens, bedding and pillows, and more.

People can drop off donations (including plastic bags) any time the store is open, volunteers noted. Tax slips are available.

"We appreciate the support" from donors and buyers, Jagusch said. "We're happy we've been able to serve the community all these years."

"I look forward to coming in here on Tuesdays," Brusehaver admitted. Laughter and fun are commonplace in the back rooms, She explained. "There's a great camaraderie among workers."

For more information about donations or volunteering, call the store at 651-385-0565.