Community Ministry of North Augusta helped 2,125 families last year. The organization paid electric bills totaling $68,437, water bills totaling $10,109 and medical bills totaling $1,247. It also provided $96,492 worth of food and $23,434 worth of clothing, furniture and other items to the needy.

“We get most of our money from sales at our thrift store,” said Nancy Joyce, who has served as Community Ministry's director for five years.

The store is so popular that people often are waiting outside before it opens Tuesday through Saturday at 9:30 a.m.

“There was a lady here this morning when I came in at 8:15,” said Joyce during an interview on June 25.

Joyce expects the thrift store to rack up approximately $165,000 in sales this year. It takes up about 5,000 square feet in Community Ministry's 8,000-square-foot building on East Buena Vista Avenue, and Joyce believes it needs even more space. An expansion project is scheduled to begin in 60 days or so. The extra room will allow the store to display large items like appliances and furniture better, according to Joyce.

“We try to organize things here the best we can, and we get great donations,” said Joyce, who once managed a restaurant and four associated gift shops in Pennsylvania. “We get beautiful artwork, we get antiques and we get jewelry. We work hard to display everything really well. We also do something that a lot of thrift stores don't; we have sales.”

Six North Augusta churches banded together to found Community Ministry in 1984. Twenty-two are involved in supporting the organization today, and it has an annual operating budget of around $260,000.

“We ask each of the churches to give us $1 for each church member each year and, of course, many of them give more than that,” Joyce said. “We also have a couple of fundraisers, and we do receive corporate gifts. This is the first year we are getting money from the United Way.”

Community Ministry serves families with financial problems in the Aiken County Public School District's Area 2.

“We're open on the ministry side of the building Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and we normally get 10 to 20 families each day,” Joyce said. “The people who come here are in great need. They usually have lost their jobs or their hours have been cut. Sometimes they have a health problem that prevents them from working. The reward is that we get to help a lot of them.”

Community Ministry has eight employees on its regular staff. Joyce and one other employee work full-time and the others work part-time. On average, 49 volunteers donate their time to the organization each month.

“We have so many volunteers from various churches, and they know what is going on,” Joyce said. “Whenever we need food for our food pantry or other donations, they go out and tell their churches and the churches really respond.”

Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.