Orange County

Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTA tells thrift shop to stop using 'PTA' name

PTA Thrift Shop new endeavor important for organization’s sustainability

PTA Thrift Shop Executive Director Barbara Jessie-Black explains why it was important to use PTA Thrift Shop profits to build a renovated store and the YouthWorx on Main project in Carrboro.
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PTA Thrift Shop Executive Director Barbara Jessie-Black explains why it was important to use PTA Thrift Shop profits to build a renovated store and the YouthWorx on Main project in Carrboro.

Local PTA leaders want the PTA Thrift Shop to change the name its second-hand stores have had for 66 years.

In a letter Monday, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools PTA Council gave the thrift shop's board until July 15 to remove the word “PTA” from its name, website and materials. The thrift shop operates stores in Carrboro and Chapel Hill.

The PTA Council hopes the groups can continue to work together, even if they don't share a name, the letter said.

"We are confident that while supporting the PTAs may no longer be the main goal of the new Thrift Shop, the PTA Thrift Shop Board does care about supporting the community as a whole," it said.

The PTA Council did not take its decision lightly, Council president Lisa Kaylie said, but the community needs to know where the money from its donated clothing, furniture, books and CDs is going. If less is going to the PTAs, they need to ensure their schools, students and teachers, who frequently use their own money to meet classroom needs, are adequately funded.

The PTA Council is also asking for the change because the National PTA organization has trademarked “PTA,” Kaylie said. There are rules for using that name, from paying dues to providing an annual financial review or audit, she said.

Kaylie called the turn of events "a very sad story."

"The PTA Thrift Shop has been an amazing resource for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro PTAs for over 50 years. But more than that, it was also a place where the community came together to volunteer and donate to support our students and teachers," she said. "Generations of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools families worked to build and support the PTA Thrift Shop. It holds a special place in many people’s hearts."

Information sought

The PTA Council has tried to get financial information from the PTA Thrift Shop management and board since August 2017. Although the groups met in October and the Thrift Shop board has explained changes in its mission, Kaylie said there’s still no clear information about why the Thrift Shop has stopped its once-substantial support of local schools.

Barbara Jessie-Black, executive director of the PTA Thrift Shop, said members of the nonprofit's executive committee had received the letter and would be meeting soon to talk about it. She did not know a date for the meeting but said a statement would be issued.

The PTA Thrift Shop was founded in 1952 with the mission of selling second-hand goods to support local schools. That support had grown to about $265,000 a year by 2011. Then the Thrift Shop embarked on construction of a new Carrboro store and an adjacent nonprofit rental space, YouthWorx on Main.

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Thrift shop officials warned their PTA partners that money would be diverted from the schools to pay the mortgage on its new buildings. A total of $119,000 has been given to the local PTAs since 2012.

Barbara Jessie-Black
Barbara Jessie-Black PTA Thrift Shop Contributed

In 2015, the PTA Thrift Shop started the Project Impact grants program, which provided another $31,838 to individual school projects — roughly 56 percent has gone to projects at Phillips Middle School and Frank Porter Graham and Scroggs elementary schools. Seven other schools have shared the remainder.

Records show the PTA Thrift Shop was still paying more than $4.4 million on its mortgage as of June 30, 2017, up from $3.8 million the year before. The mortgage was refinanced and increased in 2016, and the nonprofit added another $250,000 loan to cover unexpected project costs.

Jessie-Black said the current mortgage amount was not available Tuesday.

"We're paying the mortgage monthly, as you might imagine, but I don't have any idea when it might be paid off," she said.

YouthWorx

Thrift Shop officials previously have said repayment will depend on the income earned from selling second-hand goods and leasing YouthWorx space. Nearly a dozen youth-oriented nonprofits pay $200 to $400 a month to operate out of the space, which also sells memberships for up to $1,800 a year.

YouthWorx is important, Jessie-Black said, because it will bring in more money to support local schools and youth-focused nonprofits and help the nonprofit compete for bigger grants.

“The fact that we chose a collaborative program to be housed here is because we wanted to stay on mission, meaning it’s organizations that support the youth that are part of the school system,” Jessie-Black said. “There’s a nice connection to the schools and the PTAs.”

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She noted last year that the PTA Thrift Shop has had several tough years, including lost sales while its stores were closed. Tax returns show the nonprofit posted a small loss in each of the last two years. Sales, grants and investment income fell by just over $77,000 between July 2016 and June 2017, when they totaled $1.66 million.

The thrift shops "receive a tremendous amount of donations every day," she said Tuesday. The PTA Thrift Shop also received a $25,000 Power of Sharing collaborative grant in May from Coastal Federal Credit Union, she said, for "projects that inspire education."

"We have a lot of support in the community, not just from this community but also beyond, which unfortunately doesn't always get mentioned," Jessie-Black said. "Our hope is that we can continue to do positive things, and that's what we're doing."

PTA giving

PTA Thrift Shop sales revenues and proceeds given to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools:

2010: $1.41 million earned, $221,488 for schools

2011: $1.43 million earned; $265,000 for schools

2012: $1.13 million earned; $30,000 for schools

2013: $1.37 million earned; $4,000 for schools

2014: $1.65 million earned; none for schools

2015: $1.74 million earned; $85,000 for schools

2016: $1.66 million earned; none for schools

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926; @TammyGrubb
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