Desiree Smith bends over a large red bin to sort through an overwhelming pile of what she calls “bric-a-brak.”  This is a pile of miscellaneous objects that includes lamps, heaters, suitcases and even an ice-tea maker. To the untrained eye, the items may look random, but soon they will be organized and shelved.  Each was donated to the Thrifty Shopper by community members and will be resold in order to help those who are in desperate need.

Smith, the store manager at Thrifty Shopper in Ithaca started working for Rescue Mission 8 years ago. Previously, she was an aspiring EMT, and was halfway through her paramedic classes when she realized that she couldn’t afford to finish her schooling. She started to work at the Binghamton Thrifty Shopper and has since moved to the Ithaca location.

“I stayed working here, and I’m okay with that because I’m still helping people in some way,” said Smith.

What does the Thrifty Shopper Support?

The Rescue Mission Alliance of Syracuse strives to help the hungry and homeless, and has initiatives throughout Syracuse, Auburn, Binghamton and Ithaca. In order to fund these numerous programs, the mission owns 14 Thrifty Shopper stores. These stores sell used clothing and other household items that have been donated from members of the community. They fund more than 50 percent of the Rescue Mission’s homeless initiatives.

How Important are Thrifty Shoppers to Rescue Mission?

According to Amanda Erwin, Rescue Mission communications specialist, this is where Rescue Mission differs from most non-profits. Less then 10 percent of their funds are from grants, state funding or federal funding, which allows them to be more self-sustaining than other non-profits. Their revenue has a stable source for years to come and allows them to be a “reliable support system for the people we serve,” said Erwin.

In addition to the revenue from Thrifty Shopper stores and government funding, Rescue Mission’s private donors make up the last 40 percent of the funds that they require to meet their goals.

With such a large portion of their funds from Thrifty Shoppers, Rescue Mission is dependent upon these stores. According to Erwin, Rescue Mission wouldn’t be able to support all of the programs without these stores.

“We would try to meet the need as best we could,” said Erwin. “But we might not have as large capacities or programs to the extent that they are.”

Where exactly does the money go?

These Thrifty Shopper stores directly support the local programs in the area. This means that any goods donated in Ithaca will go to the Ithaca Thrifty Shopper, and that revenue will go to Ithaca homelessness initiatives, Court Street Place or the Emergency Shelter, not programs in other towns.

According to Smith, when Rescue Mission creates budgets, the organization puts into consideration programs that they want to open, continue or expand. They then evaluate the stores and volunteers to meet the budget goals.


The poverty rate for Ithaca is 45.5 percent. Since the population of Ithaca is 30,331, then 13,800 people are living in poverty. Poverty thresholds are used to calculate the number of people below the poverty level. For an individual person, the federal poverty threshold is $11,484, which means anyone making less than that amount is classified as living in poverty.  In 2012, the official poverty rate was 15 percent according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which amounts to 46.5 million people living in poverty. This is an increase in the poverty rate of 2.5 percentage points from 2007.

Poverty is clearly an issue in the United States, and is a prominent issue within Ithaca itself. Rescue Mission relies upon the revenue from the Thrifty Shopper to fund their numerous programs. On March 1, 2014, Rescue Mission began to operate the Emergency Shelter in Ithaca in addition to Court Street Place.