Treasures in the garage

St. Mary’s Garage: Crested Butte’s free donation center

By Kendra Walker

Who doesn’t love a good thrift store find? Especially when it’s a bargain or, even better, free. That’s exactly what St. Mary’s Garage in Crested Butte offers—donated items made available to anyone for free. Everyone in the community is invited to donate clothing, bedding and housewares, which are then sorted by volunteers and available for free to those in need.

St. Mary’s Garage was started in 2009 when members from the Queen of All Saints congregation saw some workers standing outside of the hardware store in the cold, in need of warmer clothing. Wanting to help them and others in similar situations, they founded St. Mary’s Garage.

It started out in a literal garage, where Sunlit Architecture is now located, and then moved into its current space at 300 Belleview Ave. by the C.B. skate park in 2015. Crested Butte local Diana Graves was instrumental in St. Mary’s beginnings, eventually turning management over in 2016 to Carolyn Blanchard, who had been volunteering there since 2010.

“It’s rewarding when you see people who are really in need and they find things they can use,” says Blanchard. “It’s like a recycling center. People who have more bring their excess and those who have less appreciate the excess. It makes both ends of the spectrum happy.”

Blanchard and her volunteers see a wide variety of folks in need of items, from moms looking for clothing for their kids, to visitors caught in unexpected weather, to new employees in town being sent over by their employers for winter-appropriate attire. “Some of these kids who show up here from foreign countries, they come here with flip-flops and that’s all they’ve got!” exclaims longtime St. Mary’s volunteer Michelle “Lipstick” English.

During a typical day of operating hours, Blanchard guestimates they receive about three to six people bringing in donations. She says the store gets busier during the change of seasons, when folks tend to clean and bring in donations. And just like town, “We’re crazy in July,” she adds.

Blanchard has about 30 volunteers who help run the store, take donations and greet patrons looking for items.

English has been volunteering every Saturday for the last few years, “except for Flauschink or when I’m on vacation,” she says. When she first started helping out, St. Mary’s was open only twice a week on weekdays. “It was a difficult time for me to get stuff there,” English recalls. She knew those were tough hours for others as well, so she volunteered to open up the store on Saturdays.

English loves working at St. Mary’s. “I have no free time but I make free time because it’s important,” she says. “It’s been a really great experience for me. I look forward to doing it.”

Like many who have shopped there, English has scored a number of great finds, from ski pants to child booster seats. Oftentimes donations don’t even stick around long enough to reach the hanger or shelf.

“A lot of things come in the door and they walk right out before we get to sort them,” says Blanchard. English agrees. “It’s funny how someone will bring something in and someone else will say, ‘That’s just what I need!’ I see that with a lot with people and it’s also happened for me.”

Other items have “been there since I started,” laughs English, referring to a funky Mardi Gras jester hat. (We checked—it’s still there if anyone is in the market.)

And while donations are rotated based on seasonal needs, and volunteers will start getting rid of summer items this time of year, the biggest challenge is space. “I get overwhelmed in there. There’s too much stuff,” explains English. “We get more donations than we get people coming in to take stuff—I know there are people out there in need and they need to know they are welcome.”

St. Mary’s sends their overflow donations with volunteers to Goodwill in Grand Junction, Denver and other donation centers outside of the valley. They are always looking for folks driving to Grand Junction or Denver to take bags to donation centers, as well as people interested in volunteering at St. Mary’s Garage. Blanchard feels fortunate to keep St. Mary’s doors open, as long as they have enough volunteers.

Whether you need to get rid of some stuff, or you’re in need of some stuff, St. Mary’s Garage provides the Crested Butte community with opportunities for both. “I love knowing that I’m helping people,” says English. “We have a really nice community here in the valley but there’s a lot of people who really don’t have much. All the time I see someone walk out the door with the biggest treasure ever.”

St. Mary’s welcomes donations of clothing, bedding and housewares. No books, electronics or ski gear, English requests, as those items are very difficult to accommodate. Cash donations are also greatly appreciated, which helps contribute to the cost of the rent and maintaining the space. To volunteer, support St. Mary’s Garage or find more information about donations, visit stmarysgarage@aol.com or call Carolyn Blanchard at (970) 318-6826. Hours are 4 to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays (non-holiday).

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