Virginia, known as GeeGee, Brannigan pushes through a rack of coats until she lands on one. Pulling it out she presents it to the homeless man, who takes and inspects it as she looks for more options.
On this Friday morning, Brannigan has come to Catholic Charities’ Atlantic City Family and Community Services Center, as she has for years, to help the homeless select new clothes from the center’s thrift store. Gracie’s Thrift Shop, named for the former director of the center, Sister Grace Nolan, has served the poor and homeless of Atlantic City for decades, and Brannigan continues the tradition of its founder, her mentor.
The homeless select clothing and take a sandwich for the road for free on Friday mornings. On Mondays and Wednesdays, Brannigan, or one of her volunteer compatriots, Patricia (Patty) Bivins and Kathryn (Kay) Noble, is in the shop again, selling clothing and household items to families at whatever price they can pay.
Collectively, they are known as “The Troops” for their loyalty and dedication. Each has been coming faithfully to the center to serve for about thirty years.
“They never take time off,” said Nancy Hickman, coordinator of the Atlantic City center. “Without their dedication we wouldn’t have a thrift store, we wouldn’t be able to serve the homeless the way we do. They never say no and they never look tired. They inspire me.”
In addition to their work in the thrift store — organizing clothing and donations, working the store when it’s open, and serving the homeless on Fridays —work in its food pantry and visit shut-ins in Atlantic City.
Last year, they were honored with Justice in ACTION awards at the annual Justice for All Dinner benefitting the work of Catholic Charities. The awards are presented annually to individuals and organizations that exemplify the mission of Catholic Charities to serve the poor and vulnerable and promote social justice.
“My years in Atlantic City have been the most wonderful, rewarding years of my life. We see Christ in every person we serve,” Brannigan said when she accepted her award.
“There is no more perfect mission statement for the purpose of these awards,” said Catholic Charities executive director Kevin Hickey. “The awards honor those people working for justice in our diocese because we understand the work of serving the least among us as serving Christ.”
This year’s dinner is scheduled for Sept. 17 and the planning committee is seeking honorees for this year’s Justice in ACTION awards.