Store manager role natural fit with great crew
HANCOCK — St. Vincent de Paul Society is a worldwide Catholic lay organization with nearly 700,000 people. Headquartered in Paris, France, “St. Vinny’s” as it is affectionately called locally, helps people living in poverty in 142 countries on five continents.
In the Upper Peninsula, there are 32 St. Vincent de Paul conferences; one of those is the Resurrection Conference, in Hancock. For the past 13 and a half years, the Hancock St. Vincent de Paul resale store, on Quincy Street, has been managed by Hancock resident Carla Johnson.
To those who know her, Johnson is a natural fit for that position. Johnson herself is not only dedicated to her store, but she is also committed to her community and its members.
In addition to her position at the store in Hancock, she is a member of the Resurrection Parish Council, a choir director and music minister in the church. She is also a member of the Hancock Business and Professional Association, as well as a member of the vocal group Noteworthy and the Copper Country Chorale. So, how did Johnson come to her management position at St. Vincent de Paul?
She says with a laugh: “Father Augustine asked me to.”
At that time the manager position was open, the pastor at the Church of the Resurrection was Father Augustine. Johnson said it was he who inspired her to take the position.
“He told me — he said: ‘You should apply for that. You would be good at that,” she said with a laugh. “And so I did. And the rest his history.”
In the decade-plus she has managed the store, Johnson said she has confronted a number of challenges, but two stand out in her mind.
The worst challenge she said she has faced was when Quincy Street was under reconstruction in 2016.
“I was so scared we were going to lose this place,” she exclaimed. “What kept us going was the other conferences and the District believed in the store.”
Johnson said revenue losses that year amounted to 50%. It went down that deep, she said.
“You know how people run paycheck to paycheck?” she asked. “That’s what the store was doing.”
The other major challenge she said faced was 2020 during the COVID lockdown.
“That was the saddest when I told everyone we had to close,” she said. “That was hard. But it was amazing as were going through that.”
The store did not fail. Johnson credits the people at large for that.
“On certain days, I would bring the truck up,” she recalled, “I’d let people bring their stuff in — and people still brought. They stuck by us. That was amazing!”
An ongoing challenge continues to be dealing with the quantity of the merchandise. The amount the store takes in now is significantly more than when she started there.
“When I started there,” she said, “the sorting table was right on the main floor and the donations just went around it. And that’s how they did it, ya know.”
That could not be done today, she said, never in a million years. Donations have increased surprisingly in the 13 years Johnson has been managing the store.
“That’s how we’re able to do what we do,” said Johnson, “because people have been so gracious in choosing our store to bring their donations to.”
That the huge amount of donations flowing into the store has been a challenge, how it has come to be processed is an accomplishment. Today, donations are brought to the back of the store and sorted in the basement. There, donations are sorted, categorized, cleaned and laundered if needed, priced and put out on the main floor. It is a very liquid flow and very efficient.
That still, she says, is not her greatest accomplishment, because it is what she calls her amazing crew that makes it all happen.
“I attribute that a lot to my crew,” she said. “Because, you know, I couldn’t keep up with all that. “That’s why I can do what I do,” she exclaimed. “Because, if you don’t have the support, then you’re not getting anywhere.”
In addition to the regular “crew,” the store has also been fortunate in the number of volunteers over the years. But like other organizations, volunteerism dropped during COVID, and has yet to recover.
“It ebbs and flows,” said Johnson.
This brings us back to Johnson’s compassion for her community and why she is a natural fit for her manager position at the store. She is in a position to assist people in need in ways she could not otherwise do. She works hard to accomplish that, too.
“I try,” she said simply. “You know? Because everybody — you know it yourself — that you’ve needed help along the way. You don’t do that by yourself. So, I try to help people.
“I get tired sometimes. But once I make a commitment, I’m not going to not see it through. You have to be there for each other, because you’re not going to make it in this world if you don’t work together.”
She concluded by repeating: “One thing I would really like to make clear — to emphasize is I couldn’t do any of this without a great crew. I have a really great crew.”