Q&A: Barbara Berney, Manager of the Non-Profit Knoxville Community Chest

Barbara Berney is the manager of the non-profit Knoxville Community Chest at 1508 Central St. Along with the 122 W. Scott Ave. location, it is strapped because donations of the high-quality, gently used clothing and household goods it sells are way down.

What is the biggest challenge KCC faces right now?

Getting more donations to sell in our thrift stores! Over the past few months our inventory has decreased. We try to provide only the highest quality inventory to our customers at the very lowest possible prices, and we can't meet our current needs. All of our clothing is a dollar per piece and children's clothing is "Buy 2, get 1 free." We've already put our summer stash out and sold it; we don't have any clothes for summer. We would accept clothes for winter as well—we welcome any high-quality clothing you have, winter or summer.

What is KCC's relationship to FISH Hospitality Pantries?

As a non-profit organization, any of our earnings go to feed the hungry people of Knoxville through the pantry. Our monies also pay utility bills for our facilities—you've got to sell a lot of clothes at a dollar apiece to cover our overhead.

How did KCC begin?

It was Jim Wright—he is the backbone of the FISH Hospitality Pantries and the KCC. He was the one who came up with the idea in 2007 that there was a need to feed people in Knoxville and to also provide a place to buy clothing at a low price. Our goal is to always be less expensive than traditional thrift stores, and to offer clothing for families who cannot afford to shop at other stores. We soon needed to expand to provide a place for our stock and for the warehouse that stocks the food items, and opened a second store in 2010.

Who relies most on KCC?

It's those people who legitimately have few dollars to spare for clothes. We take great pride in knowing who our customers are and their needs as well as their situation behind the walls of our stores, It's real sad—we have a big homeless community. If they get wet, they have no clothes to wear, and no blankets. We give away a lot of things to the homeless community—socks and underwear for free, for example. They just don't have any other place to go for that. We see some drenched people, wet and freezing. While not everyone relies on our pricing policies, many rely on the friendship and empathy we offer. We are a unique store in this business. We do not put sales and money first. Our goal is, and always will be, to put the community first.

What's the most unusual item you have on the shelves now?

A couple of weeks ago we received a vintage slot car race track with cars in near perfect condition. It's a real treat for the few collectors we have come in from time to time to buy these items. One important thing: We don't allow resale of items purchased in our stores. That would defeat the whole purpose. We always mention that, but you can't really stop it—we just have to hope people will be honest enough not to do that.

How do the two stores differ?

Only in size. The Central store is bigger, and the Scott Avenue store has the FISH Hospitality Pantries facility.

How did you get involved with KCC?

I'm from Knoxville, a 1962 graduate of Fulton High School, and I retired from state government after 30 years of service. You know, I'd always said, "I don't particularly like my job with the state, but one of these days when I retire, the Lord's going to put me in a place to change lives." And now, my son Chris, who manages the Scott Avenue store, and I, and our staffs, make a difference with what we do. Maybe in just a small way, but we're there—for those that need to shop, for those that need a hug, and especially for those who just need someone to listen to, and to be able to laugh with them in their time of joy and cry in times of sadness.

For more information about donating and store hours: communitychestknoxville.org