Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor
Thrift Store Graces: Finding God's Gifts in the Midst of the Mess by Jane Knuth; Loyola Press; March 2012; 144 pp; $13.95
Jane Knuth first walked into the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Kalamazoo, Michigan more than fifteen years ago to make a quick purchase-- a gift for her daughter's First Communion. She left the store with a rosary, a satin case, a prayer book, and an invitation to volunteer at the inner-city thrift shop. Knuth is a middle-class, suburban wife and mother, and math teacher. She reluctantly agreed to give it a try, and has been volunteering once a week ever since.
Thrift Store Saints, Knuth's first book, is a collection of true stories based on her experiences as a volunteer at St. Vincent de Paul, and her unexpected transformation that occurs as a result. Admittedly arrogant when she first began volunteering, Knuth writes of her encounters with the poor and needy who visit St. Vincent de Paul's store for help. She describes how she learns from her fellow workers and by her mistakes, how to see Christ in every person she meets, one customer at a time.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society was founded in Paris in 1833 to help the poor and needy. There are currently almost 400 St. Vincent de Paul thrift stores in the United States. The Society believes in the dignity of the human person and identifies Jesus with the poor. In addition to operating the thrift stores, members of the Society, who are called Vincentians, provide emergency financial assistance, disaster relief, food programs, and other help.
Knuth's nineteen stories in Thrift Store Saints are thoughtful and reveal how she comes to realize that when we serve the poor, we receive much more than we give. She states in the preface that her book is about "recognizing God among us when the language is rough, the labor seems mindless, and everybody is wearing old clothes." Knuth writes with humor and humility of her experiences with thrift store shoppers who are down on their luck.
In her new book, Thrift Store Graces, Knuth continues her inspiring stories of working at St. Vincent de Paul's, with thirty additional anecdotes, told with the same wit and thought as in her first book. The narratives include the theft of Knuth's wallet from the thrift store and Knuth's questioning of many of her convictions concerning the poor. Artfully, Knuth weaves in stories of her pilgrimage to Medjugorje, a trip she was reluctant to take, but found to be an enlightening and rewarding journey.
Knuth's writing is thought-provoking and moving. In both of her books, Knuth uses her stories to teach readers to see the face of Jesus in the poor. The spiritual path of St. Vincent de Paul, which is to pray together, help the poor face-to-face, and learn from the poor, is reiterated throughout her two books. Knuth states at the end of Thrift Store Saints that she is a full-fledged Vincentian now, having learned from St. Vincent de Paul's teachings, her fellow workers, and especially from the poor she serves. Her stories are insightful and affecting, and are excellent reads.