Camaraderie, helping others and serving the community -- these are just a few of the reasons 50 residents devote their time to the Thrift Mart of New Milford.

This is the 60th year the organization has been serving the community.

More than $2.2 million in scholarships and donations have been given out since 1989, all paid with money raised by selling gently used household items and clothing.

Scholarships awarded to graduating New Milford High School students alone have occasionally surpassed the $60,000 mark in recent school years. In early June, Class of 2014 members will receive about $40,000 in scholarships from the Thrift Mart.

"It's heartwarming when people receive something and come by to thank us," said Sue Metcalf, Thrift Mart president. "What money the Thrift Mart takes in stays local. That's a fact we take pride in."

Started in 1954 in barn at 18 South Main St., the Thrift Mart has had many homes since.

At one time located in the former Conn's Dairy building along Park Lane (Route 202), the thrift shop survived a 1997 fire -- regrouping, accepting new donations and reopening in the Northville district of town.

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The Thrift Mart's homes

1954 18 South Main Street
1954 Church Street
1964 56 Bank Street
1976 45 Bank Street
1981 84 Railroad Street
1985 Park Lane
1997 369 Litchfield Road
2003 128 Litchfield Road
2005 146 Danbury Road

Today, the Thrift Mart is located at 146 Danbury Road (Route 7 South), behind Monroe Muffler.

Originally, the Thrift Mart was in affiliation with the town's family and children's service. By 1985, under the leadership of Jean York, it had become an independent nonprofit.

"I remember a little boy who would come in with his mother and sit on my lap while she shopped," said Mary Jane Burr, a 28-year volunteer and second vice president. "Today he's a doctor."

Her story of watching generations grow is a common one among Thrift Mart volunteers. And everyone in the shop is a volunteer.

"Young people, business people, antique dealers and consignment shop owners come here to shop," said Doris Curtiss, a 29-year volunteer. "The organization was started by a very small group of women and has grown to be a tremendous asset to the town."

Burr remembers when money earned was carried in a cigar box. Today a modern cash register holds the day's receipts and Finance Committee Chairwoman Laura McCormack oversees the books.

Last year, $32,501 in donations were made to the Children's Center of New Milford, the New Milford Senior Center, the Wheels program, Loaves & Fishes Hospitality House and other civic organizations.

Requests are met throughout the year, decided on by the Finance Committee. New Milford Social Services will give vouchers for clothing and home goods to its clients in need.

If a donated blanket or towel isn't sold, it goes to the Animal Welfare Society along Dodd Road or New Milford Public Works for work rags.

Nothing is wasted. Every donation finds a home.

When New Milford High School students put on a play, the costumes occasionally come from the Thrift Mart.

"The Thrift Mart in New Milford is a true gem," said Peg Molina, the town's social services director. "The reach their donations have is remarkable."

"They contribute very generously to our emergency fund," she added, "enabling us to assist a lot of households in tough times."

Why do these women and men keep volunteering year after year?

The answer is simple, Curtiss said.

"I'm afraid if I retire I'll miss something," she offered with a chuckle.

The Thrift Mart of New Milford, at 146 Danbury Road, is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Donations of clean, wearable clothing and reusable household items are accepted during business hours. Tax receipts are available on request.

For more information, call 860-350-2153.

For more photos, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.

Photography by Norm Cummings