“Have a blessed day,” the little girl says to an old man at the counter.
Every customer at this thrift store gets the same blessing when they pay. A little brunette girl is the one who gives it.
Her smile is big enough to set the woods on fire. She wears pink shoes.
“We told her to greet customers, both coming and going,” says thrift store manager, Donna. “She’s never missed a one.”
The girl is all kinds of friendly. But she is poor. Barefoot poor.
She volunteers here. In return, Donna lets her pick out whichever T-shirts she wants. Or toys. Or shoes.
I meet the little girl. She is sorting a pile of clothes at the counter.
“Are you having a good day?” is the first thing she asks me.
They’ve trained her well.
She’s tiny. She doesn’t know a stranger. She’s wearing an “Eagles,” T-shirt—the band, not the team.
“Do you like the Eagles?” I ask.
“My dad does,” she says.
They tell me her daddy is dead. A car wreck. Her mother does what she can to keep bill collectors at bay. Most days it’s not enough.
Donna says the church tried to help financially, but got rejected.
“You know,” says Donna. “Poverty don’t always want help. This is the Deep South, pride goes back several generations.”
And old times are not forgotten.
The thrift store sits facing a slow two-lane highway. Today, they get all sorts of shoppers. Mexican laborers, needing clothes. Young couples, looking for skinny jeans or vintage lamps. And poor folks.
Donna met the girl last summer. One afternoon, the girl’s half-barefoot family walked through the doors. They browsed the narrow aisles, quietly.
The little girl found a T-shirt with Princess Elsa on it.
“Put that back,” said her mama. “You got plenty of shirts. We’re buying school shoes for brother.”
That day, Donna was sorting clothes. She asked if the girl wanted to help her sort while waiting.
The rest is history.
“She’s a good volunteer,” Donna says. “So sweet. Her little face is the first thing I look for when I get to work.”
The little girl is a hard worker. She knows how to man the coffee machine, sort new donations, she even runs the cash register sometimes.
It’s only a part-time gig, but the kid likes her job.
Last week, the church ladies bought three pairs of tennis shoes from Shoe Carnival. Pink with white trim. They removed them from boxes and tossed them into the donations bin.
The girl found them.
“Look!” said the girl. “These are AWESOME shoes!”
Awesome. At first, she was afraid to wear them—she didn’t want to get them dirty. The church ladies insisted.
“We’re just trying to make her feel special,” says Donna. “Trying to show her what she’s worth. She don’t have a clue how much we truly love her.”
I give the little girl a high-five before I leave. Her face is all teeth.
“Have a blessed day!” she tells me.
I will, kid.
And it’s all your fault.