By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
A volunteer-operated thrift shop in Big Sandy will close its doors next month after only one year of business, but will leave behind a legacy of oral health for the town's youngsters.
All of the money raised by Miscellanea, a nonprofit secondhand shop, will fund dental screening for Big Sandy first-graders starting next fall, said store manager Roberta Edwards.
"We wanted to spend our money on children's needs. It took us a while to figure out what to do with it because there are so many needs and they aren't always obvious," she said. "This is something that can have a small impact on all the kids instead of a large impact on a few of the kids."
With the help of about 10 volunteer employees and a seven-member board of directors, Edwards transformed her hobby of bargain shopping into a thriving business that raised money for another of her passions - children.
"I love kids. It just seemed like a fun thing to try," she said.
Edwards, who lives by the adage "one man's junk is another man's treasure," said the idea of opening a thrift shop dawned on her when she saw an available space in the Oddfellows building in Big Sandy.
"I just one day walked into that little space and I thought, 'This would make such a great secondhand shop. A great nonprofit secondhand shop. What could we do with the money?' It just took off from there," she said.
Edwards decided all of the profits from the store should be used to help children. After getting input from a number of people in the community, she decided that a worthy cause would be annual dental screenings for local first-graders.
Edwards hopes to contract with a dentist to visit first-grade students once a year.
"Part of it will be education - a presentation on how to brush and how to floss. We also want to help them avoid their fear of dentists," she said. "We want to make it something they're not scared to do."
But more than that, Edwards said she hopes the program will help provide dental care for those students whose families cannot afford it.
"If we do find somebody with serious dental needs who can't afford it, maybe we can match them up with somebody willing to help them," she said.
To date, the store has generated more than $5,000 in profits. Marlys Bitz, who serves on the board of directors for Miscellanea and is also its treasurer, said that figure could easily reach $6,000 by the end of this month.
"It turned out really nice because the community supported it so much. (Edwards) did really well. To raise $6,000 after all the expenses, I think, is just amazing," she said. "I figured it would do well, but it did do better than I thought it would."
In addition to generating money for oral health needs, the store also gave young students a place to volunteer and learn, Bitz said.
"Roberta Edwards just really wanted to do something to help the children in this community. And the great thing about it is that kids would go there to help out and volunteer, and learned about running a business in the process. They had a place to go and learn, as well as help. You really got to hand it to somebody to do that," Bitz said.
Pam Bold, the head teacher at the elementary school in Big Sandy, said she suggested to Edwards last year that the proceeds from the store be used for a dental-care program for kids.
"A lot of the kids can't afford dental health care, and it's not as available as we'd like it to be," she said.
The school is "absolutely" interested in Edwards' program, which Bold said will be a great supplement to another one that the school already offers. That program consists of weekly fluoride rinses for students who have their parents' permission, Bold said.
Angel Johnson, the public health nurse for Chouteau County, also lauded Edwards' efforts.
"She's a wonderful lady doing a great thing for that community, providing a wonderful service," Johnson said.
The nurse said she is looking for grant funding to implement similar programs in other schools in Chouteau County.
"That's one of my goals for next year - screening and just educating kids on why dental health is important and can prevent long-term trouble," she said.
Edwards said that while nothing is set in stone, she believes offering the program to a particular grade every year will work the best.
"I think if we just choose one grade, we can catch everyone who comes through the building," she said.
Edwards credited the help she received from the community for the success of Miscellanea.
"The encouraging part has been that Big Sandy people were eager to donate their treasures," she said. "That was very encouraging - the beautiful things people would give. It wasn't junk."
The Oddfellows allowed Edwards to use part of the building above the store to process donations, a time-consuming task, she said. Although running the store was hard work, it was also fun, she added.
"Another nice part was the visiting. People would drop in - it was somewhat of a small hub for people to stop in and pass the time," she said.
Like Bitz, Edwards said she was very pleased that young kids were willing to help out at the store.
"Grade school kids always wanted to help and that made me really happy," she said.
Edwards said she will miss managing the store, but eagerly anticipates putting the proceeds of her hard work into action through the dental-screening program.
"It feels like time for the next chapter," Edwards said. "It feels good."