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SUPERIOR – On Tuesdays and Fridays you’ll find the savvy shoppers of Mineral County in Superior, combing the extensive racks and shelves at the Women In Timber Thrift Store.

Here, on Iron Mountain Road just off of Interstate 90, is the motherlode of new and gently used clothing and nearly every household item imaginable. Here too is where you’ll also find the eight members of the Clark Valley Chapter of the Federated Women in Timber.

These women are big hearted, generous, great cooks (they’ve published their own cookbook), spouses of men who work in timber and the fairy godmothers of their realm.

Although the national organization of Women In Timber promotes the Forest Products Community and lobbies U.S. Congress, locally, the Women In Timber operate the thrift store and have been taking care of their neighbors since 1987.

“Our purpose when we first started in 1985 was to help our husbands – we passed out booklets in school and talked about the timber industry,” said Joann Merseal, secretary and treasurer of the organization. “Then we decided to start the thrift store a few years later.

“We were in the 4H building the first time, and everything was free for the needy. Then we got so much stuff coming in and being donated to us we had to move across town to a bigger place. Three years ago, the Odd Fellows deeded this building to us and we had to charge people for things –but not too much – because now we have to pay for utilities and upkeep.”

The all-volunteer crew of Women In Timber and the few spouses who can be sweet-talked into lending their labor manage and operate the massive two-story thrift store, which is open twice a week – Tuesdays and Fridays – from 10 a.m to 2 p.m..

What extra dollars are earned after bills are paid go directly to work for other priorities. The thrift store sponsors three, $300 scholarships to a graduating senior at each of the Superior, Alberton and St. Regis high schools.

At Christmas time, the thrift store provides gift baskets, which include a turkey, all the fixings and food for several days to the county’s needy. The Lions Club helps too, and together they assemble and deliver hundreds of baskets throughout the holiday week.

And that’s not all, Merseal said, taking a breath while helping a rush of customers last Tuesday.

In the spring, the thrift store buys hundreds of eggs and dyes them for the annual Easter Egg Hunt sponsored by Mineral County Search and Rescue. At fair time, the thrift store has a raffle to raise funds to help offset the cost of the Christmas baskets.

“We don’t charge much for the things we sell,” Merseal said, “and we still give things away to people in emergency situations, like when their home burns down or someone breaks down on the interstate and they can’t get home for a few days because work needs to be done on their car.”

For certain, the thrift store has plenty of everything to tide people over.

“You never know what you’ll find here,” said Dee Rose, the organization’s vice president. “Some of the rich people? They drop of some of the nicest clothing – Liz Claiborne, Gloria Vanderbilt and Pendleton stuff. It’s all here.

“We get the nicest ladies purses, too.”

There’s so much stuff, some rooms have been dedicated to an entire theme, such as the “medical supply room,” Rose said, while giving a tour.

Navigating the book area, through the kitchen supply section, past the clothing and near a storage area filled with furniture and sports equipment, Rose showed off the place where things such as braces, crutches and shower benches were neatly stacked, waiting for use.

“A lot of mobile homes burn in this area,” Rose explained while passing through a special area that displayed shelves of dishes, cups, cooking utensils and other household necessities. “So this is where they come if they’ve been burned out of a home.”

The Women In Timber enjoying helping others – there’s no doubt. But there’re other reasons for keeping the thrift store going.

“You just never know what’s in a box that’s coming through our doors,” Rose said. “The surprise is so much fun.”

All of the stuff is inspected by the women and only the clean and useful items are kept for the store – the junk gets parceled off to quilters and others who might have a new use for the old stuff.

Often, where there’s a large surplus of items, particularly clothing, the women bundle up the goods and donate it to the Poverello Center in Missoula.

Last week, eight enormous bags of mens jackets were delivered to the Missoula homeless shelter.

Sometimes, really wonderful things are donated to the shop, such as womens hats from the 1920 and vintage jewelry. Those things are kept behind the cash register and aren’t for sale – at least for now.

“We don’t know what we will do these things, maybe auction them off one day,” Merseal said. “Of course, if a collector comes in and gives us a nice offer, we will consider that.”

Reporter Betsy Cohen can be reached at 523-5253 or at bcohen@missoulian.com.

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