By Colleen Sparks

An Ahwatukee church has helped make an area nonprofit organization’s bustling thrift shop offer shoppers unusual riches and a chance to support struggling neighbors.

Hidden Treasures Thrift Store on North Alma School Road just north of Galveston Street has seen donations quadruple over the last couple years, store manager Laura Cervi said.

That’s largely because volunteers from Mountain View Lutheran Church have been partnering for 10 years with their counterparts from three other churches to run the store, which sells clean, reusable items donated by people and businesses.

The organization took over another suite in the Waterfall Shopping Center to accommodate its donations. It now occupies four suites, though one is for just processing donated items.

Hidden Treasures sells furniture, clothes, toys, antiques, kitchenware, electronics, craft supplies, jewelry, books, CDs, movies and many other items.

“We needed more space,” Cervi said. “Our donations just keep growing. Our volunteer base keeps growing. We’re all headed in the right direction.”

Proceeds from sales go to many local nonprofit organizations including Matthew’s Crossing Food Bank in Chandler, Pregnancy Care Center of Chandler, Tempe Community Action Agency and The Chandler CARE Center.

The organizations that Hidden Treasures supports are located in the same areas where the four founding churches stand.

The other churches are Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chandler, Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Gilbert and Desert Cross Lutheran Church in Tempe.

Last December alone, the thrift store processed 2,341 sales, Cervi said. About 70 volunteers work in the store, usually for four-hour shifts once a week or twice a month.

“Many of them come in several times during the week,” Cervi said. “People manage departments and take an awesome amount of pride. We scrutinize all the clothing. We don’t put items (out) that are dirty or torn. They’re in good condition.”

Customers can bid on silent auction items. If no one bids on an item, which is unusual, then the merchandise is moved to the floor for regular sales.

Hidden Treasures also gives seniors a break. Every Wednesday is Senior Day, where people ages 55 and older get 25-percent off the original price of anything in the store.

“There are customers who come here every day,” Cervi said. “We have a lot of loyal followers.”

People can find a woman’s shirt for $4 in the store and buy scrapbooking sheets for 10-cents each. The combination of cleanliness, low prices and “variety of items” attract shoppers, Cervi said.

“I was a previous customer,” she said. “I started donating and buying here.”

Cervi had worked in supply chain management for manufacturing companies for 40 years but said her job at Hidden Treasures is “fulfilling.”

“All of our donations stay in our communities,” she said. “When you go home at the end of the day, you’re not working for Japan or Germany. What you do stays here.”

Hidden Treasures generates about $285,000 a year, after discounts. The nonprofit gives checks to other organizations twice a year. Recently it donated $35,000 and in the fall it also usually provides about another $35,000 for nonprofits.

Jan Terhune, executive director of Matthew’s Crossing Food Bank, is thrilled and grateful for the support she gets from Hidden Treasures.

“They give us a sizeable check twice a year,” Terhune said. “They also support us with books. The greatest partnerships are those that have longevity and/or are consistent and they’ve certainly been a partner that has recognized our neighbors in need are valuable to our community.

“The fact that they hang in there with us is important to us. We also share volunteers; many of our volunteers also volunteer there.”

Matthew’s Crossing Food Bank provides emergency food boxes once a month to people struggling. The boxes on average provide enough food to relieve hunger for six to eight days, Terhune said.

Because of Matthew’s Crossing’s Meals to Grow programs, students in elementary, junior and high schools receive backpacks on Fridays filled with food to eat for two breakfasts, two lunches and three dinners, as well as snacks for them to consume over the weekend.

Meals to Grow also has food closets on high school and Chandler-Gilbert Community College campuses where students can get food during the week. A summer backpack Meals to Grow program offers food to help students get enough to eat over summer break.

Terhune said Hidden Treasures typically donates about $6,000 a year to Matthew’s Crossing. It’s a big help given it costs about $3.80 to fill a backpack with food, she said.

The thrift store is a great way to encourage people to help their neighbors, Terhune said.

“I think it’s a brilliant business model,” she said. “It’s an example of how you provide innovative alternatives to providing resources to the community.”

Another recipient of Hidden Treasures’ support, The Chandler Children’s Assistance, Resources & Education Center also targets youths in need.

The Chandler Unified School District program was created in 1995 to address the needs of low-income students, said CARE Center director Katie Kahle.

The program offers no-cost medical and dental care to uninsured Chandler youth as well as a food bank and Family Resource Center programs that focus on language and literacy and parenting support.

It also gives them access to behavioral health services, tax assistance, the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and holiday needs.

“Hidden Treasures has provided funding to the CARE Center for many years by donating a portion of their proceeds to our programs,” Kahle said. “The funding provided is intended to go directly into service provision to help children and families in need.”

She added the CARE Center’s dental services are “provided in partnership with Chandler Regional Medical Center and St. Vincent de Paul, and cover everything from an exam and cleaning to restoration for dental diseases and decay.”

“We love the concept of Hidden Treasures for so many reasons!” she said. “One, they provide an avenue for households to dispose of unwanted items that are in reusable condition by donating the items rather than the items ending up in the trash.

“Many families love thrift shopping because they can find unique items and sometimes even items from a specific time period or a certain decorating aesthetic. Thrifted items are less expensive than new, and often make great ‘project’ pieces, such as furniture items that can be refinished or clothing that can become a child’s Halloween costume.”

The Chandler CARE Center serves about 30,000 people a year.

Hidden Treasures Thrift Store is located at 610 N. Alma School Road. It is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Mondays through Saturdays. Information: treasuresthrift.com.