Leona “Lee” Freitag calls The Bargain Box thrift store in Homewood her “treasure.”
Funny. That’s how the store manager and her fellow volunteers feel about Freitag who has been volunteering there for 50 years.
If it’s Tuesday, you will find Freitag quietly seated at her work table inside The Bargain Box, 18660 Dixie Highway, pricing donated items, including clothing and jewelry, offered for sale from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.
Most people are shocked to discover that Freitag, stylishly dressed in a sweater and scarf ensemble, is 95 years old. A gorgeous complexion belies her age.
While Freitag is the longest-serving volunteer in The Bargain Box’s history, she might also be the most humble. She prefers to draw attention to her fellow volunteers calling them “all very devoted workers.”
“It’s a commitment. We’re all dedicated,” Freitag said. “Look at the beautiful window displays that we have; sometimes people fight over the clothing in our window!”
JoAnn Rockman, of Flossmoor, is in charge of the window displays, a volunteer post she took over from her mother, Eleanor Humble, who volunteered at the store for several years herself.
“Lee is the backbone of the store,” Rockman said. “She is just fabulous.”
The Bargain Box manager, Lora Blythe of Homewood, couldn’t agree more.
“These women (volunteers) are phenomenal,” Blythe said. “And Lee is such an inspiration to so many people. She was like a grandmother to my children; to this day she remembers their birthdays. Such unconditional love.”
“My goal is to be doing the same things that Lee is doing, to be an inspiration to others when I am her age,” Blythe said.
Freitag says she cannot conceive of where she would have spent all her years as a volunteer, if not at The Bargain Box.
“This is something very worthwhile,” Freitag said. “It has an important purpose in the neighborhood. People come here and buy nice things.”
The Bargain Box fulfills an important need for people of all ages, Freitag pointed out. “Isn’t that wonderful when a little child can get the coat he needs?” she asked, gesturing to a rack of children’s winter coats. “I clothed my grandkids with items from The Bargain Box.”
Freitag said the store regularly receives a wide range of donated items, including fur coats. When pricing an item is challenging, volunteers work together to come up with a price.
The roots of The Bargain Box were planted in the basement of someone’s home more than 50 years ago when a group of parents began gathering boots, shoes and coats their children had quickly outgrown. No money was exchanged, just clothing. When they outgrew the space, the effort moved to the Community House at Flossmoor Community Church, then to the storefront in 1966, where Freitag began volunteering.
The Bargain Box is run under the auspices of Flossmoor Community Church, but proceeds are shared with Respond Now, Jennifer S. Fallick Cancer Support Center in Homewood, Aunt Martha’s Youth Service Center, PADS, Jones Center of Chicago Heights, the Epilepsy Foundation, South Suburban Humane Society and the Homewood Public Library.
To promote the store, The Bargain Box hosts a spring fashion show every other year; the next one will be in 2017. Women from Flossmoor Community Church model items they select from the shop. “They find their own treasure!” Freitag said.
Be like Lee: Volunteer at The Bargain Box
All it takes to volunteer at The Bargain Box is the ability to work a single three-hour shift each month. Volunteers sort items on Mondays and price items on Tuesdays; Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., they run the store and accept donations.
For store manager Lora Blythe, The Bargain Box is a mission — something she was meant to do — body, heart and soul.
“The people who walk through the doors of The Bargain Box sometimes just want to talk to someone; sometimes they are in dire straits. So you’re ministering to people, in a way.
“It’s about being part of a community,” Blythe added. “And isn’t that what it’s all about — to help others in whatever way possible? God puts people in your life for a reason. God put me in this (The Bargain Box) situation.”
Anyone interested in volunteering can call Blythe at 708-798-5030 or email Blythe at [email protected].