Rebekahs Donna Natal, Ann Samuelson (back row), Mary-Ann Sands and Bridget Callais (front) stand on the steps of the Near New. Photo by Will Sardinsky

If you have ever gazed up from the doorway of the building located at the corner of Third and Main in Carbondale, you will have spied a blue sign with yellow lettering that reads: Rebekah Lodge.

Many locals know it as the Near New or, more informally, as “the thrift store.” This building serves as home base for the Seven Stars Rebekah Lodge #91.

The letters “I.O.O.F.” in the building’s cornerstone represent the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a non-sectarian and non-political fraternal order founded in Baltimore in 1819. Rebekah Lodges were founded nationally in the 1850s as the female auxiliary of the I.O.O.F. Carbondale’s chapter was formed on Feb. 18, 1903, sharing space with the already established I.O.O.F. Lodge #75.

Sue Gray of the Carbondale Historical Society provided background information about the I.O.O.F. structure. The original building was dedicated on July 4, 1888. Gray said a fire on July 4, 1905, destroyed many of the wooden buildings in the downtown area, including the original I.O.O.F. building. The construction of today’s brick building was completed in 1906.

Documents within the historical society’s collection state: “The ownership of the building remains with the Rebekah Lodge to this day. Though the Odd Fellows Lodge was primarily associated with the building, it seems that the funding for the acquisition of the property and the construction was provided by the women members of the organization.”

Donna Natal has been an active Rebekah since 1965, when her mother-in-law, Emma Natal, coerced her into attending a meeting. “I’m very happy that I did and have made a lot of friends. It’s been a great organization,” she shared.

When Natal joined, there were about 20 members. Since then, “We have drifted down a time or two to maybe 10.”

Natal explained that the building has always housed the Rebekah and Odd Fellow meetings upstairs. The main floor, however, has served a number of functions — as a meeting hall for literary clubs, a paint store, a craft store, even a church. The space has hosted traveling shows and movies and, for many years, Natal stated, “it was a big town event to hold a dance there.” The high school used the main hall to play basketball games into the 1930s.

Currently, the Rebekahs list 20 members and four associate members, including a few members from Parachute. Store profits, after expenses, are redistributed to the community in the form of student scholarships and charitable donations to local organizations including the Roaring Fork Conservancy, Advocate Safehouse and — yours truly —
The Sopris Sun.

Lodge members Bridget Callais and Mary-Ann Sands spoke about their recent involvement. Callais said that after moving to Carbondale, she was a shopper who started volunteering some two-and-a-half years ago.

Sands also started as a shopper and now, a retired flight attendant, she and Callais spend a number of hours at the store and attend organizational meetings twice a month.

They loan out wheelchairs and walkers, for a deposit, which is returned when the item is brought back. Victims of house fires can have anything they want from the store, helping them replenish their household goods for free. They also work with a local community member who buys items for the homeless, such as wool socks, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks and waterproof boots.

Emphasizing the need for store volunteers, Callais stated that one does not have to be a Rebekah to volunteer. “I’d like people to realize we are the only nonprofit thrift store that gives back to the community. And we’re all-volunteer. Nobody gets paid. We need volunteers; the store would not be there without the volunteers.”

One public service announcement they wished to make: large items, like furniture, dishwashers and refrigerators, are not wanted. Callais said, “We’ve gotten it all and we have to pay to haul it.” They also ask that you drop your donations off only during store hours (Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m.).

If you are interested in volunteering, stop by the store or call 970-963-0340. Students interested in the scholarships can call the store and leave an email address for more info.