Ralph Bunch spent a total of 10 days in his home town of St. Louis last year and the rest in Naples. A seemingly good tradeoff, it's not the warm weather and retired lifestyle that keeps him here, rather it's his labor of love as the thrift store volunteer coordinator for St. Matthew's house who's mission is to serve the homeless. He's the boss, or as the store employees refer to him, "the old man."
"I can work rings around these young kids," jokes Bunch. Beads of sweat roll down his face as he unloads bags of shoes in the afternoon sun.
"I spend more time down here than ever because of this place," says Bunch. He's surrounded by equally tireless volunteers and donated goods piled impossibly high, being organized and labeled for the Fall Festival and Food Drive at Fleishmann Park on November 15th. It's a big event and the money raised goes to provide food and shelter for the homeless through St. Matthew's. " I believe in the organization and the mission."
Lunch breaks up a busy morning in the thrift store's back room and Ralph Bunch takes a brief moment from the phone calls, physical labor and never ending duties to wolf down a sandwich. In between bites, he's poking fun at Maria Aiken, an employee Bunch calls invaluable amongst a tightly knit, diverse group of volunteers and paid workers. Aiken, more than likely, is the source of the "old man" nickname Bunch wears with affection. "I have the best people here," says Bunch.
Bunch is a former pawn shop and antique store owner and he brings his wealth of experience in business and inventory to the thrift store. He donates all his time as a volunteer, working eight hours a day, five days a week. "I cut it down to five days a week," says Bunch, who used to work far longer hours to get sales where they need to be to support the charity.
Everyone in the store is quick to point out that Ralph has made the thrift store what it is today, praise he quickly deflects back onto those around him and those who donate.