By Emily Arlidge for JAC

At least two Brisbane thrift stores discourage needy clients from exchanging church vouchers for trendy clothing, preferring to sell them to shoppers with money to boost revenue.

“Needy people are able to use the clothing vouchers here but only for standard stuff you can go to work with and run an everyday life,” said Frances McLeod, a volunteer at Vinnies, in Paddington, which is operated by the Catholic Church through the St Vincent de Paul Society.

The church distributes vouchers to people considered needy. Many of these are homeless, although that is not a condition of vouchers being issued.

Dr Ted Flack, Director of Communications for St Vincent de Paul Society, Queensland said that vouchers may be exchanged for clothing or furniture.

“The vouchers entitle needy people to pick what they want from the wide range of stock in every St Vincent de Paul store,” he said.

However, Melissa Martin, centre manager at Vinnies, West End apparently practices what she preaches, “It’s discriminatory if you tell needy shoppers to select from a certain area in the store but I believe it’d be a better way to do it.”

“I tell shoppers with vouchers that in order for us to provide this service, they need to be reasonable with their selection,” Ms Martin said.

Vintage and retro clothing items are prized by fashion conscious shoppers and by dealers, who buy and restore thrift store stock then mark up items for resale.

According to staff at Vinnies, in Paddington, shoppers with vouchers have become aware that they can sell old clothes to dealers.

However, even if the needy sometimes on-sell to dealers for a profit, denying them access to these items runs counter to the stores’ rules and their charitable purpose, according to Griffith University ethicist, Professor Noel Preston.

Dr. Preston, former head of the Methodist Church in Queensland, believes the shops have become cash cows for charities. “Op. shops are in danger of lapsing into unethical practices and, in effect, are guilty of misleading promotion,” he said.

While acknowledging the church’s objective to help the poor, Ms Martin claimed that vouchers were intended for emergency clothing. More often than not, she said, needy people manipulated the system by exchanging vouchers for retro items that they could resell.

Dr. Preston said charity stores needed to reassess their fundamental mission. “If it is to provide a service to the poor then that should govern their protocol.”


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