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It’s the holiday season!


Mary Jo Ragaller has been organizing the holiday donations as a volunteer for two decades at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

Mary Jo Ragaller, 85, sifts through the seasonal donations at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.

Deep within a forest of fake Douglas fir Christmas trees, and somewhere within the massive mounds of decorative ornaments that are piled high around heaps of wreaths surrounding boxes upon boxes of holiday mugs in the back room at St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store, smack dab in the middle of it all, every year for the past two decades or so, stands Mary Jo Ragaller. The octogenarian gets work done. 

“I’m in it for the money,” laughs the 85-year-old volunteer. “Steve (Havemann, St. Vincent de Paul’s executive director) keeps giving me more zeros but nothing in front of them.”

Fun and quick-witted, Ragaller’s personality makes her a customer and employee favorite. She specializes in organizing donations for the seasonal sections — Easter, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, The Fourth of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving and then, of course, Christmas. 

“Anything that comes in that has to do with the holidays comes to me,” she says. 

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After retiring from her real job more than 20 years ago, Ragaller tried staying home, but “I just couldn’t do it,” she remembers. Her restlessness found its cure at St. Vincent’s “just two days a week,” at first, but now she frequently puts in three and sometimes four. 

“Everybody that works here treats me like gold,” she says.

Christmas platters, ornaments, bearded nutcracker men, Santa hats, Santa boots, Santa beards, racks of ugly sweaters for the ugly sweater season and so on…. 

“Stuff comes in, and it’s a lot of work, but this is my second home,” she says. 

Prices are set using a complicated formula. 

“Well, some we make up,” she laughs. “I use my Spidey sense. None of my prices are very high.” 

The work is steady all year around, and only the items that pass her test make it to the shelves. 

“If I wouldn’t buy it, no one else would buy it.” 

That’s the standard. 

“We are OCD,” she jokes. “If it has a stain or if something is broken, we throw it out.” 

Dozens of Frosty the Snowman, a multitude of gingerbread men, gingerbread houses, garland, sparkling lights, “an Elmo that is my size”….

“Every year we say, ‘Gosh, we’ll never get rid of this all,’ but then we do.” 

In early November, Ragaller recruits her grandkids to help move the bulk of the loot into the store, stocking the shelves with the gently used items that are ready for new owners. It has become a family tradition. Then the back store room is ready to fill up again, and it’s time to start over. 

“There is something going on all of the time,” she says. 

If you want to drop something off for Ragaller, she works at the St. Vincent de Paul in Des Moines at 1426 Sixth Ave.  Others will surely help you at the south side location at 520 Army Post Road, Des Moines. 

“Make sure Mary Jo gets this,” people often say. 

“She is so dedicated and relentless,” says Beth, a co-worker. “She runs circles around me.” ♦

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