Jean Butler finds a thrift store volunteer family

At 84, she volunteers four days a week sorting housewares at SVdP's Surprise Thrift Store

Jean Butler found herself craving something more out of retirement. She loved her late husband, Cliff, and cared for him, but she missed the rest of the world. 

“I wasn’t getting out much,” Jean recalls. “Cliff liked being kind of by himself. Not me. I’m a people person. I like being around people, so anyway I said one day, ‘Cliff, I’d like to do something to get out of the house. I’m going to go volunteer.’”

Never will she forget the day she walked into St. Vincent de Paul’s Surprise Thrift Store to inquire about volunteering after seeing an ad in her church bulletin at St. Claire of Assisi. Jean was immediately greeted by the store supervisor.

“She came right over and gave me a hug,” Jean remembers. The supervisor asked her to stay that day, but Jean couldn’t return until the next.

“I came back in the next day, and I’ve been here ever since.”

Older woman sorts goods in a store
Jean sorts and prices goods for the housewares section.

Jean has volunteered at the thrift store in the housewares section for about six years now. At 84, the work keeps her active and spry. A petite lady, she lifts boxes, dives into huge bins of donations and gets things sorted, processed, priced and on the store floor for customers. 

“I do all the dishes, pots and pans, vases and statues,” says Jean, who is meticulous about quality control. She won’t put out anything with chips or cracks. “If I wouldn’t buy it, I won’t put it out. That’s the criteria.” 

Today she’s proud of processing a beautiful Spode Blue Italian Covered Vegetable Dish, which retails at $150+ brand new. Never used and in the box, it’s a steal for $60 at the Surprise Thrift Store.

Close up of a porcelain dish
Valuable Spode Blue Italian Covered Vegetable Dish just priced by Jean.

Jean used to serve two days a week at the store, but that’s since increased to four days after a fellow volunteer passed away during the pandemic. Jean picked up her shifts and now comes in from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Tuesday through Friday. She was recently honored with a CBS 5 Pay it Forward award for that act of selflessness. 

“Jean is our most-dedicated volunteer,” Surpirse Thrift Store Lead Diego Cruz says while wrapping his arm around her shoulder. “We absolutely love her.”

As a retired office manager for a Valley medical practice — where she worked 27 years — keeping busy keeps Jean happy. She also appreciates the community impact of the service work.

“That’s actually a big part of it, you know,” Jean explains.

“It makes me feel good to know that I’m helping other people.”

She values that the store profits help support SVdP programming so that families can have meals and people experiencing homelessness can have hot showers, case management and shelter. But she also sees the store — which is at 12751 W. Bell Road, dividing Sun City West from El Mirage — serving as a critical bridge between the northern city of retirees and the southern city of low-income families. 

“We get the stuff from the Sun City people who have good stuff, and we process it through,” Jean says, “and we have a lot of people from El Mirage come in and buy these things where they wouldn’t be able to have them otherwise. So there’s this important interchange between them.”

Man and woman posing for the camera in a thrift store
SVdP staffer Diego and Jean pause for a photo.

But more importantly, it’s the culture and the people that keep Jean coming back to the store, especially after her husband passed.

“I love coming into this place, to be honest. I love the people that I work with most of all. It makes me feel good to know that I have this place with these people.”

“My whole family lives on the East Coast,” continues Jean, who grew up in Massachusetts 15 minutes from Plymouth, “so this is my family here.”

At St. Vincent de Paul, volunteer appreciation doesn't end after Volunteer Appreciation Week, April 17-23, 2022. We're grateful every day for all our volunteers who are the lifeline of our operations. We're can't say thank you enough. 

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