Thrift- and style-conscious Ann Arborites have long been fans of the weekly Saturday sales at the Kiwanis building downtown. Few realize that on Thursday mornings, the store opens again for a private sale to a select group of shoppers. The buyers are in urgent need of everyday necessities like clothes, dishes, and beds—which they pay for with vouchers donated by the Kiwanians themselves.

Downtown Kiwanis president Lynne Lande says that last year the store gave away 255 vouchers worth about $30,000. At least thirty-two agencies send clients and caseworkers to the special Thursday sale. By now many of the caseworkers and Kiwanians know each other by sight, and the atmosphere is friendly. One day in October, a woman accompanied by a Community Action Network staffer chose a lamp, a coffee table, and other small items of furniture for her new apartment, while a Jewish Family Services worker helped a Russian immigrant find a TV—especially important to people who are not native speakers of English.

Because of the dismal economy, demand for vouchers has been especially brisk the last couple of years, Lande says. Unfortunately, hard times have also cut into donations. “Instead of going out and buying new furniture,” says longtime volunteer Sally Lamkin, “people are making do with what they have.”