The Closet Says Good-bye to Harris

The Closet Says Good-bye to Harris

Treasurer's work requires two replacements.

When Peggy Harris first volunteered to be the treasurer at The Closet, a faith-run thrift store, she never imagined it would be a full-time job.

"I thought all I had to do was write the checks," said Peggy Harris, 71, who recently retired after almost 20 years as treasurer for The Closet. "[The work] gradually increased, they'd say: 'Oh Peggy don't forget the sales tax; Oh Peggy don't forget the unemployment ...'"

Before she knew it, Harris's volunteer job became a full-time commitment that her colleagues say was well over 40-hours a week.

"She has never complained about the work," said Laura Greenspan, president of The Closet. "We can only guess how much time it takes her to do the books."

Harris said her other job was as a housewife, taking care of her son and daughter while they were growing up in Reston. Once they moved out, she and her husband of 48 years, Caspa Harris, moved to Waterford, three miles from the West Virginia border, to a house they had built on 12-acres of farmland.

They have lived in the three-story, bright yellow house surrounded by Peggy's flowers, Caspa Harris's freshly mowed grass and a small pond for 15 years, making her commute to The Closet a long one.

"When she moved to Waterford, she had to commute, and that's a lot to ask," said Leomia Brunson, manager of The Closet and long-time friend to the Harris's. "She volunteered to do it, she was always at home, and that job was a non-paying job for her."

THE CLOSET, located at 841 Station Street in Herndon, was established in 1974 as a thrift store geared toward low-income families and run by a combination of faith organizations.

Harris said she first became involved with The Closet as a board member through her church, The Washington Plaza Baptist Church in Reston. After being on the board for about six years, Harris decided to volunteer as treasurer, a job she didn't think would last as long as it did.

"I don't know," she said as to why she stayed, "I just got hooked on it. It was scary because there are so many people out there that really needed what The Closet had for them."

When Harris took over as treasurer, she said The Closet had four paid employees and donated around $20,000 a year to local charities. Now she said, The Closet has 13 paid employees and donates between $100,000 to $200,000 a year to local schools, charitable organizations and non-profits.

"We work with social service agencies to provide free clothing to the truly needy community," said Greenspan, explaining The Closet is run by 16 churches and one synagogue. "As we grew, over the years we've gotten to be a pretty profitable enterprise, so we try to get involved with charities to benefit the local community."

Harris said with the growth came legal necessities and more book work.

"I did most everything by hand," said Harris. "My husband introduced me to the computer for the payroll, but the rest I did the old-fashioned way."

HARRIS SAID HER HUSBAND, a retired lawyer and CPA, helped her understand the increasingly difficult tax laws.

"She's done a wonderful job," said Caspa Harris. "She picked it up and really went forward."

Her colleagues at The Closet agreed.

"She did everything that went along with running a small business," said Brunson, "it's pretty intense."

"The only way we could replace Peggy was with two people," said Greenspan, adding they may have to hire someone to do some of the work because no one can commit that much time.

"I didn't realize it was that much," said Harris, shrugging off the compliments. "When they asked me to write down my job description I said, 'What job description? I just write the checks!'"

Now that she is retired, Harris said she plans to spend more time on her hobbies, gardening and creating stained glass. She said she even plans to return to the closet in the fall if they need her, but not as treasurer.

"I hope to help out as a volunteer, I can't cut them off completely," she said with a smile.