Still your trusted Crested Butte donation center
By Kendra Walker
“People that have more than what they need want an easy way to donate it. People that don’t have a whole lot love having a place to pick it up,” says Connie Rehberg, who helps run St. Mary’s Garage with Kay Peterson Cook.
The beloved “free” thrift store and donation center in Crested Butte was founded in 2009 by members of the Queen of All Saints congregation. Starting out of a literal garage, the goal was to help residents and workers in Crested Butte in need of warmer clothing. In 2015, St. Mary’s moved over to 300 Belleview Avenue by the Big Mine skate park. Now, it has a new home. In August, St. Mary’s moved into its new location at 421A Sopris next to Queen of All Saints.
Rehberg explains that when the Queen of All Saints built the new building next door to the church location for visiting priests to have a place to stay, a space was allotted on the first floor for St. Mary’s Garage.
The new location is larger than the previous space on Third and Belleview, “and we have a designated parking lot,” says Rehberg, in relief. “The old space was tricky for parking.”
St. Mary’s accepts donations of clean, usable items which are then available in the store for folks in the community. You won’t see any price tags, though, as everything is available entirely by donation. “We ask that you take what you need and donate what you can,” says Rehberg.
Any monetary donations the store receives go toward paying the rent for the space, utilities and an extra storage space for items that don’t fit in the store. “All donations go directly to supporting the cost of operations for the garage,” says Rehberg. “That helps us cover the costs, but also keeps people from having to continually buy new things.”
St. Mary’s is run entirely by volunteers. “We have an amazing team of volunteers that sort through all the donations and put them out around the store,” says Rehberg. “Anything we can’t use, our volunteers will take on to other locations as much as we can.”
Rehberg loves that St. Mary’s Garage has become a community staple. “We love hearing stories about people coming in and finding something really exciting or practical, and a lot of times people will donate what they would have paid for a new item anyway. We’re making a direct impact on reducing what goes to the dump and therefore helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We’re also making it easier for folks to participate in the community and help each other out.”
Rehberg says they average about 45 shoppers and 25 donors per day. She says St. Mary’s Garage shoppers really run the gamut. “We see a lot of people that have just come into the valley and thought a sweatshirt would be enough to get through the winter. Once the weather shifts and it gets cool, we have a lot of new residents coming in. I love it when the high school students come after class and hang out and have fun. We also have college seniors come and spend their vacation time paying it forward and sorting and cleaning. We’ve also helped inspire several fashion majors, they now come back and volunteer with us.”
When asked if she has a favorite St. Mary’s Garage find from over the years, Rehberg says it’s been the people. “Crested Butte has some really amazing people. I also get my favorite jigsaw puzzles at St. Mary’s.” Peterson Cook’s is an angel from Santa Fe.
In recent years, St. Mary’s has also served as a collection point for community events, such as the town clean up days and the senior gift drive for the Gunnison Rotary. “It’s really phenomenal to make it easier for people to get rid of things they don’t need, but are still usable,” says Rehberg.
Now with the new space open for donors and shoppers, Rehberg, Peterson Cook and their volunteer team are working hard to get everything organized for fall and the upcoming winter season. “The focus leading up to winter is making sure people who need warm layers have warm clothing, blankets, etc.,” says Rehberg. “We’re also really grateful for the Crested Butte Rotary Club, which just gave us a grant to make sure we have a good kids area.”
St. Mary’s accepts the following items: clothing, shoes, housewares, bedding, toys and games. “We can’t take electronics, sporting goods, furniture, baby equipment or books. We just don’t have room for those types of things,” explains Rehberg.
St. Mary’s is open during the same hours as the previous space, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to noon.
St. Mary’s has a new website and Facebook page where people can learn more, donate or sign up to volunteer, at stmarysgaragecb.org. “Volunteers are always needed,” says Rehberg. “We have volunteers there while the store is open to sort donations, but we could also use volunteers between hours for cleaning and sorting. It’s a great way for people to contribute who don’t want to be in a crowd.”
Rehberg and Peterson-Cook are grateful to be a part of the St. Mary’s Garage family. “It’s very much the Crested Butte and Gunnison Valley way of life to take care of each other. If you look at our community values, to take care of your neighbors and protect the environment, there’s such a strong overlap,” says Rehberg. “It’s been such a blessing for the whole community.”