The Staff Non-Commissioned Officers Wives Thrift Shop benefited Marines stationed at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany as well as their families. It has shared in the stories of the Marines who have walked in and out of its doors, provided goods, handed out academic scholarships and built relationships with organizations in the Albany community.
The store has now closed its doors. Its legacy will live on through another nonprofit, Albany Rescue Mission.
The shop had roots going back to the early days of MCLB Albany, being founded in 1956. Mary Sutton took the reins in 1974, spending some of her service working in the store by herself. She recently retired.
Susan Mardon, who worked with Sutton for roughly 20 years and wanted to ensure her service at the shop was recognized, said there was no boss among the group of women who volunteered there over the years.
“We all worked equally,” Mardon said.
Mardon, whose husband retired from the Marine Corps following his service at MCLB Albany, started off at the store part-time before making it a full-time commitment. She, alongside Sue Wesley, put much time and effort over their roughly two decades at the shop.
Another volunteer was Roxanne Aionaaka, whose husband is an active-duty Marine serving at Marine Corps Logistics Command, which is headquartered at MCLB Albany. Aionaaka’s husband is moving to a new duty station shortly, in turn leading to her departure from the shop.
In most families, both parents need to work full-time to support a household. This made it a challenge to find someone who could fill in for Aionaaka, and Mardon has health issues that make it difficult to move around much on her own.
“She has been of great assistance and a great volunteer; we couldn’t do it without her,” Mardon said of Aionaaka. “We couldn’t find someone to take her place.”
“We have really appreciated our volunteers over the years,” Mardon added.
The store was in the same building as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service office at MCLB, formally the base’s brig facility. It had been in that space for at least 15 years, previously occupying another area that offered less room.
“This was way bigger than the place we had before,” Mardon said.
Mardon said the store helped military high-school dependents receive scholarships of up to $1,000. From donations taken in, the store’s volunteers helped military and Department of Defense civilian employees during times of fire and natural disasters.
It also helped non-profit causes in the Albany area including Lights of Love, benefiting the Phoebe Cancer Center, and Liberty House, an agency serving victims of domestic abuse. They also made contributions to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and provided food at the base’s Buddy Fishing Tournament until two years ago.
The items taken in over the years from donors included Marine uniforms that were no longer needed. Marines in need of these items were able to get them for free at the shop.
“We will miss our customers and our Marines very much,” Mardon said. “The store provided economic and decent things for younger families. The store’s items really helped our young military families, and some older ones too.”
“We have done a lot for as small as we are,” Mardon continued.
Items at the store typically stayed in the shop for up to 90 days before they were taken to an Albany area charity. In keeping with being a faithful community partner, what remained of the store’s inventory apart from the Marine uniforms was picked up by the Albany Rescue Mission earlier this month to go into its thrift store.
A chapter in history is closing for the store’s volunteers to look back on. Just as they might from members of their families, they received Christmas and Valentine’s Day gifts from its customer base.
“It will benefit the entire city of Albany,” Mardon said of the donation to Albany Rescue Mission. “I am sad to see the shop go. We hate it; it is a sad thing.”
“We are sad to see it close. The customers are very sad. I will miss talking to them and seeing them, talking to them about their families, children and grandchildren,” she added.
Mardon’s husband retired as a first sergeant after a 30-year career. From that point forward, she got involved in volunteer programs. Wesley, also married to a Marine retiree, came into volunteerism for the Corps in a very similar manner.
“You are lucky when you get people like this who are dedicated,” Mardon said.
Aionaaka has been a part-time volunteer, also serving with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and through their family’s parent-teacher association. She first came into the store to donate items and later saw the shop had more to offer than just stuff.
She found a sense of community.
“I took up the opportunity and started volunteering,” she said. “It has been great. I got to meet a lot of people, work with a lot of people and hear good stories.”
“It takes a lot to run a thrift shop, but the end result is well worth it,” Aionaaka added. “When I donated to this place, I knew it was going to military families.”
Aionaaka is sad to leave Albany knowing the store is closing, but said she is glad a piece of it will remain with the Albany Rescue Mission.
“After all is said and done, it is going to a good cause,” she said. “Hopefully, one day, this will come back if there is the opportunity to do it.”
Zach Gavette, thrift store manager, Albany Rescue Mission, was among those from the nonprofit participating in the transfer of items from the base’s thrift shop. Recent circumstances related to COVID-19, he said, have further amplified the need for donations to help the agency – which largely serves Albany’s homeless population.
“We really need all the help we can get right now,” Gavette said. “We never closed during COVID. All the money we use is for something; we never save much.”
“It is going to help us out a lot. Ever since COVID, donations have been sluggish, and donors don’t want to come in as much,” he added.
Even without the pandemic bringing things to a standstill, the need for donations to Albany Rescue Mission is significant.
“We are always in need of more so we can give out more and more,” Gavette said. “We normally charge the bare minimum; we are helping the community more than we are trying to be a part of it.”