Christian Storehouse manager grateful for opportunity to help feed the need

Steve Smith, manager of Christian Storehouse, has been with the Millsboro outreach center for about 25 years.

MILLSBORO — Each and every day, Steve Smith thanks the Lord that he is alive and well, and in a position to help fellow man — and families.

At 75, he runs the show at the Christian Storehouse, a self-sustaining thrift shop on Mitchell Street in Millsboro that doubles as an emergency food site. He’s been with the Christian Storehouse for 25 years, since its inception.

“This really has been the most gratifying aspect of my life, because we at the Storehouse are able to impact so many people’s lives,” said Mr. Smith. “It’s because we’re here and we are known as a resource center and a Christian outreach. And as such so many different people from so many different walks of life come in and they have different needs and wants, and we are given the opportunity to minister to them.”

Born in Upper Darby, Philadelphia, Mr. Smith was raised on a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

“We raised corn, hay, soybeans, and wheat, and we had a couple cows,” he said. “Sometimes we’d have pigs or chickens to sustain our family.”

His college career began at Davis & Elkins in Elkins, West Virginia. He graduated from Eastern Baptist, now Eastern University. His major was history with a minor in education.

In the mid-1960s, he even had a tryout with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Mr. Smith has a rather diversified employment background, that includes school teacher, police officer, carpentry, insurance work, demolition and for a brief period encyclopedia salesman.

“I have a multi-faceted background,” said Mr. Smith. “I taught school for 5 ½ years. Actually, I was a senior high school history and Problems of Democracy teacher. I had to start out at fifth grade elementary, and after my first year they wouldn’t let me go to secondary. After my second year they wouldn’t let me go to secondary. Then we developed ‘Team Teaching,’ which was a new concept,” said Mr. Smith. “So, after 5 ½ years in the Maryland education system, I left.

He was a U.S. Capitol policeman for a period of time. I went on the day Resurrection City went up — the march on Washington. I also worked for the Prudential Insurance Company of America. I did specific demolition for townhomes and small apartment buildings for condo conversion,” said Mr. Smith. “I was doing carpentry work from 1986 until about 1992. I sold Collier encyclopedias one summer.”

Life has not always been peaches and cream. For more than a decade, Mr. Smith says he more or less “retired” from life.

“I was ‘retired’ for a number of years. From the time I was about 35 until I was 46 I was retired,” he said. “When my life was going downhill it went downhill. When it came back things changed, and I began living life on life’s terms. I had accepted the Lord.”

Mr. Smith and Joy, his wife of 14 years, reside in Lewes. She has three children and four grand-children and Mr. Smith has two children and two grand-children. “We are an extremely well-knit family,” he said.

This week’s People to Meet, Steve Smith.

When did you migrate to southern Delaware?

“I moved down here in 1986 full time in 1986. I had been coming part time since 1968 when my folks had bought a place in Pot-Nets.”

Storehouse objective

“The best way I can explain our overall approach to meeting and greeting these folks on a daily basis is what a famous theologian said hundreds of years ago: ‘If you believe in Jesus then every day whomever you meet you should be telling them about him. Sometimes you should even open your mouth.’ And we at the Storehouse are so appreciative for having the opportunity to tell so many people about him. Sometimes we open our mouths.”

“And we are still one of the best-kept secrets in Sussex County,” he said.

The Christian Storehouse includes a thrift store that generates funds to help those in need.

Storehouse clientele?

“We average between 300 and 350 families a month with the emergency food. It consists of paper grocery bags with canned goods and dry goods. The third bag is frozen items, including meats, poultry, fish, whatever we have according to need and the size of the family.”

Food sources?

“We are members of the Food Bank of Delaware, which allows us to be able to pick up items from different stores. The bulk of our food comes from being a member of the USDA of Delaware. We are one of their drop-off sites on a monthly basis. However, in order to give a well-rounded and balanced type of food, we purchase between $4,000 to $7,000 worth of products from Sav-A-Lot a month, and $720 worth of peanut butter and jelly from Dollar Tree a month. That allows us to make those three bags available, which if they went to Food Lion for an example they would have to pay $160. However, not a penny changes hands. Never has, never will. It’s on a need basis. It must be validated … if they qualify. This is done once a month.”

Hours of operation

The Christian Storehouse Thrift Store is open six days a week, excluding Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and three days week in the office for assistance, from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 12:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.

Storehouse evolution

“This was originally started by a woman named Rachel Pusey from St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in town. The churches were being asked to help folks who were in crisis. She sent a letter to five other churches to see if there wasn’t something that could be done to become more available to the needs of the community. Out of that first meeting came a series of meetings … of wanting to open a building or such that would be able to have clothing for people and emergency food. One of her co-parishioners owned the Millsboro Lumber Company. As he was reducing his business he made one of his buildings available to us — half of building available for opening a small thrift store.”

“We decided to do a thrift store because if we had just made the clothing available free, a lot of people would not have come in. They have their sense of dignity. So, we put a very minimal price on the items that we made available. Folks would buy them. People started donating used items from their homes from various churches. The Storehouse began to get larger. We never tried to make it larger. It was step by step. The owner had refurbished an area in another one of his buildings for Henry the vacuum cleaner man; Henry at the last minute couldn’t use it. So, he asked if we wanted to rent it. Which we did. His son came to me later that day not knowing that his father had made that available and asked if we wanted all the way to the middle of the building. We said ‘yes.’ That allowed us to start accepting furniture. It was not much longer after that that clothing and furniture people started dropping off housewares, knick-knacks, toys, so it developed a life of its own.”

“Initially, everyone was a volunteer. Within about a half year, it was determined that I should receive a salary, which was very minimal. It was like a pile of gold to me. Through the years we have had to increase the number of individuals who are on salary because of the scope of our operation. It’s about 10.”

Roof collapse a blessing in disguise

“In 2002 the roof caved in. We couldn’t access the second floor. With the insurance money the Lord made an additional 3,200 square feet available. We were able to open a month or so later with an addition on the side.”

Growing need

“We decided we needed a building for our food pantry. Within a month of opening the pole building that is our food pantry now, the number of people who had need had increased. It wasn’t because it was just available to anyone who wanted it — we do not do that; there had to be an identifiable true need because we are using biblical principles of good stewardship.”

“Early on when we were the beginning stages we got a phone call from one of the state service centers and the emergency resource worker had a client who needed help with some clothing and a couple other items. In the course of our conversation she mentioned how she was trying to get enough money to help the person get her electricity back on. We decided we could help her out with that. With monies we would get from the cash register we would start giving some of those monies to help people in financial crisis — electric bills, prescriptions, fuel …”

Leisure time?

“I enjoy motorcycle riding. I have a 500cc Kawasaki. I’ve had other motorcycles. I really enjoy going for a week to 10 days on barbecue road trips. I leave Lewes at 4:30 in the morning and head to Memphis, Tennessee. I don’t like eastern North Carolina barbecue, but when you get to Memphis, it’s good. But I still haven’t been able to get to Kansas City, but I am working on it.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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