A Knox County ministry that helps the homeless continues to meet a growing need by branching far outside the county.
Knox Area Rescue Ministry (KARM) operates eight thrift stores in Knox County. About a year ago the ministry decided to expand its reach with a new thrift store in Alcoa. That led to a new store in Morristown this summer. Last month KARM expanded again with a new thrift shop in Clinton.
Now a fourth out-of-county thrift store is booming with business in Lenoir City. Store manager Victoria Holland says the staff at the new store on Highway 321 has worked tirelessly the last few weeks to get the operation ready to roll. Now the store is completely stocked after being flooded with customers and donations.
"We had to hang some 12,000 articles of clothing. We built the shelves and put together displays. The displays are important because you want customers to be grabbed in. You don't want the typical thrift store experience where things are just thrown up on a shelf. Nice displays add to the enjoyment of shopping."
The amount of traffic in the Lenoir City store is remarkable considering its grand opening is still a few weeks away. Technically, the official opening ceremony is set for December 13, but right now the store is already in full swing.
"We're so surprised at how well Lenoir City has embraced us. Donations are just flooding our doors. We almost can't keep up. We're selling it as fast as it comes in," said Holland. "I worked at the thrift stores in Knoxville and decided to take this position because it would give me a chance to get my feet wet as a manager. The expectation is this would probably be a little more low-key, but instead of getting my feet wet it has been more like jumping in a pool. The response has been amazing."
Managers say the success of KARM thrift stores outside Knox County is due in large part to name-recognition.
"KARM has a brand name because of its excellence and what it stands for," said Jenny Shaw, KARM out-of-county operations manager. "It wasn't like we went into a county and nobody heard of us. They immediately heard of us, so they were excited that we were there. We are a part of these communities and all of this helps spread our ministry and feed the homeless."
"It is a win-win because people can get some great things here for a lot less money than if they were to buy them brand new," said Holland. "We have some great brand names and selection of items. Every two dollars an individual spends or donates here is a meal for somebody. Without all of the KARM thrift stores, the mission and ministry would not be possible. It would not be possible without our shoppers."