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Many gifts, one spirit
Turlock thrift store donates over $1M to community organizations
Off Center $1M
Off Center Thrift & Gift Board members Cathi Matsumura, Sylvia Cox, Darlene Cornwall, Normella Pimentel and Gail Ballas pose for a picture under the chalkboard announcing the fundraising shop’s milestone of donating over $1 million to local nonprofit organizations (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

When Off Center Thrift & Gift first opened its doors to the public in December 2006, the goal was to make enough money to pay the rent and keep the lights on, said founding board member Sylvia Cox of the philanthropic shop. Just one month later, the Off Center Board of Directors was able to give its first monetary donation: $1,000 to the Children’s Crisis Center’s Verda’s House in Turlock. This week, the thrift store celebrated another significant milestone in donating over $1 million to dozens of nonprofit organizations in the area.

“Without the community supporting us with donations, we couldn’t achieve this goal,” said Normella Pimentel, the current Vice President of Off Center’s Board of Directors.

As of this week, Off Center Thrift & Gift has donated $1,007,020 to local organizations including nine high school sober grad night events, Turlock Police Chaplaincy, Prodigal Sons and Daughters, Westside Ministries, Sierra Vista Children’s Center, Newman Westside Theatre, Crows Landing Fire Dept. and many more.

Visitors to the downtown Turlock shop can see all of the organizations supported by Off Center on the giant chalk board behind the registers.

Off Center was originally expected to hit the $1M mark in 2020, but when COVID hit the store shut down for six months. Cathi Matsumura, who served as board president during the pandemic, worked with the volunteers to gradually reopen with limited hours as they felt comfortable coming back to work. Cox said her hard work during the difficult time made all the difference in their successful reopening.

This local fundraising powerhouse got its start when a group of volunteers were looking for a new opportunity in which they could serve.

The closing of the Emanuel Hospital Thrift Shop in 2006 left a void in both an avenue for community service and another low-cost opportunity for families and individuals to purchase clothing and other household items. A group of the former Emanuel Thrift volunteers got together to form Off Center with the goal of making an impact in multiple local nonprofit organizations, while offering those who wish to serve others an opportunity to do so.

The founding board members — Gail Ballas, Michelle Mord Benton, Ali Cox-Verissimo, Cox, Carrie deBruyn Burden, Jo Cunningham, Teresa Jackson, Cyndi Mall, Griselda Pelayo, Kathy Smith, Linda Tell and Suzanne Wahl — started with a volunteer force of 17 in 2006, which has now grown to over 90 volunteers today.

All of the employees of the thrift shop are volunteers and every dollar made through sales goes to local nonprofits, after rent and utilities are paid on the 410 E. Olive Ave. storefront, said Cox.

“We are in the business of resale, but we also reuse and recycle. If we can’t use the clothes, they go to Samaritan House or the Turlock Gospel Mission,” said Ballas.

In fact, the frugal volunteers cut up old playing cards to use as price tags.

It takes a lot of work to keep the thrift store up and running. Cox said it’s just like in the Bible verse 1 Corinthians 12, where it talks about people having many different types of gifts to be used in service to others, but they are all of the same spirit.

There are managers for each department, from women’s clothing to holiday décor, books, jewelry and repairs. There is also a designated eBay volunteer who uploads items that would be popular for sale online, maximizing the store’s reach.

Cox said that they are fortunate to have professionals who also volunteer their services as needed, such as interior designers who come in to organize displays when the store is closed.

“We’ve been very lucky,” said Cox.

Another group of volunteers work on Off Center’s CARE (Community Awareness Research Ect.) Committee, which meets in May and November each year to review donation requests from local organizations then makes a recommendation to the Board of Directors.

Keeping everything running smoothly at Off Center are the Board of Directors. The current board is made up of Ernie Fleece (president), Pimentel (vice president), Lori Bill (treasurer), Mall (secretary), Cox, Darlene Cornwall, Ballas, Cory Rucker and Matsumura.

To learn more about Off Center Thrift & Gift, find them on Facebook or Instagram. The store’s current hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays.