Christine Leonhardt’s mission is to change the world, one t-shirt at a time.
Leonhardt recently opened the T-Shirt Warehouse behind DeLong’s Furniture in Shoemakersville. There she sells first-quality, new t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats for anywhere from $1 to $4 on Saturday and Sunday mornings. All proceeds are used to help people emerging from difficult situations to re-enter society.
In addition to the T-Shirt Warehouse, Leonhardt manages the City Thrift Shop in Reading. The shop, located at 314 Penn Street, was started in 1961 as the Hospitals’ Thrift Shop, a store to benefit the former Community General Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Reading Hospital. When the hospitals ceased to own the shop in 2008, Christine stepped in to rent it. Since then she has been selling donated items, and giving so much more.
“We will clothe anyone in Berks County in need of clothing, for free,” Leonhardt explained. “If they walk in off the street, we give them something.”
Specifically, Leonhardt serves individuals being released from Berks County Prison, homeless shelters, halfway houses, addiction rehabilitation programs and mental health units. Agencies like Opportunity House, Salvation Army, Hope Rescue Mission and Berks Women In Crisis send their clients to Leonhardt’s shop. These are the people who often need some nice clothes as they pursue work opportunities.
“The Thrift Shop caters to a cross-cultural mix of shoppers, people just out of BCP and people who are down on their luck,” said customer John W. Plummer of Shillington. “It’s an arrangement where they can get a suit, a tie and a belt, for free, to go on an interview and get back on their feet.”
The Thrift Shop also serves as a sort of way station for people in need.
“We get basic street-level requests on a daily basis,” Leonhardt said. “People stop in if they need a Band-Aid, or a paper clip to hold up their pants. We give them whatever they need if we have it.”
Leonhardt’s generosity extends to the stray cats she finds homes for and the volunteers who staff both shops.
John Boyle, a retired laborer from Reading, was a shopper who eventually became one of Christine’s most loyal volunteers.
“She said she could always use volunteers, so I started helping out,” Boyle said. “She gave me more responsibility... I’ve learned a lot from her.”
All of this costs money, so Leonhardt found a way to raise funds for the good work she and her staff do for the community.
“Before I took over the Thrift Shop, I used to buy the inventory of companies that were going out of business,” she said. “I continue to do that to obtain the merchandise that we sell in Shoemakersville.”
Most of the t-shirts come from Pennsylvania businesses that have extras and overruns. Many of the t-shirts, ranging in size from small to XXXXL have inspirational messages on them, like “Advice From A Garden” or “Advice From A Dog.” Flat-brim caps in every color of the rainbow prompt some shoppers to use them for their own messages.
“One nine-year-old kid came in with his mother and was so excited to find a plain white hat that he could decorate with his artwork,” Leonhardt said.
Leonhardt said that individuals and companies with extra merchandise can donate to her 501c(3) non-profit corporation.
“We recently got a donation of Diaper Genies,” she said.
She can also use donations of men’s blue jeans, belts, wallets, socks, underwear and toiletry samples, like shampoo and soap. These can be brought to the Shoemakersville location, located in the large green warehouse behind DeLong’s, 338 Main Street, during normal business hours on Saturdays and Sundays between 7 a.m. and noon. Contact Leonhardt at 610-376-3320 with questions.
All of this work has a special reward. Leonhardt said it’s common for people to come up to her and Boyle on the street and bless them for what they do. “I’ve taught John to respond, “God bless you, too.” Says Boyle, with a warm smile, “She’s trying to save the world.”