Editor’s note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, our March issues will feature profiles on local women who are making a difference in our communities. Do you know an amazing woman in our coverage area who deserves some recognition? Contact Meghan Davy Sandvold at email@example.com.
Cindy Eddy is the executive director of the Prop Shop. Located in Eden Prairie, the shop is a resale store and nonprofit serving the southwest suburbs of Minneapolis. The store includes clothing, household items, and furniture for sale to the general public. The Family Service area helps local families with free clothing, household goods, and furniture. The Prop Shop has a small staff and more than 350 volunteers.
How did you get into this line of work?
I grew up in Fargo and went to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, with a psychology degree, then I moved to Minneapolis after college. I worked for Pitney Bowes selling office equipment and mailing machines, and then I worked for Cooper Vision, and then I had my two kids, Lisa and Emmy.
A friend from college had a relative who said, “Hey, do you guys want to sponsor Hmong families?” We didn’t know what that meant or anything about it, but we sponsored a family and helped them get started with clothes and furniture and things. Then I started helping my friend who ran the tiny clothing closet at the PROP food shelf.
Then in 2005 or 2006 there was a huge increase in need and food shelf usage. PROP — People Reaching Out to People, a separate organization with a shared name — had the biggest increase of any food shelf in the state of Minnesota, a 550 percent increase. Nationwide, poverty was moving out to suburbs, and poverty was growing faster in the suburbs. People don’t recognize that. They think, wealthy suburb, how can there be poverty? But there is poverty everywhere, and there is not as much help in the western suburbs for families.
It just didn’t make sense that there were people who have needs when there are so many people who have things, so that was an easy connection to make. (My husband) Bob and I were trying to manage getting furniture to families ourselves, he didn’t have his car in the garage for 17 years because it was always filled with furniture.
So we said, “Why don’t we find a place?” We looked and looked. We had the lease signed three times, and each time there was difficulty. Somebody didn’t want the crime that goes along with this, somebody was worried about the safety of their other employees. That was a shocker to all of us that there would be that kind of prejudice. When someone falls on hard times that does not make them a criminal, that does not make them dangerous just because they’ve had something bad happen.
The (Prop Shop) building came up around Christmastime, and our 11th anniversary will be April 11. We started talking to all of our friends and everyone we knew to see who would help. Because of this community and their willingness to help and jump into a cause, we’ve had 2,600 volunteers in 10 years. We survive by what we sell in the store. We get donations from the community and sell portions of it and give away what we can. Our family services area is stocked first. We make sure there is the right mix of clothing sizes and things people need. Our motto is families first. We’ve helped 12 percent of Eden Prairie, and there are many families in Eden Prairie who could use some help but they’re too proud to ask.
Many clients get back on their feet and want to give back. If people are in good shape themselves and know there is a need, they really want to help. It’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. People are kind and generous if they can be. It becomes a community here and people all feel really good about what we’re doing and they feel good about themselves because they can contribute.
What has been the hardest thing about this path?
Hearing the stories of the families. It’s really hard. It’s hard because it’s often so bad. We had that woman come in last fall, she had three kids. All she asked us for was four forks. What bothers me is knowing there is so much more we could do and we don’t have enough resources or time. And we do the best we can with what’s donated, but there could always be more. The average number of times a family comes is three our four. Then they do the best they can to get back on their feet. It’s predominantly the working poor.
Who are some people in your life who have inspired you?
My parents. My dad was a great guy, very generous and thinking about other people all the time. He’d go over and above. When someone needed tires, Dad would go out and buy them for somebody he hardly knew. He’s the one who always said, “You can do it, you can do anything. Let’s just try it. Tell them you want to run it.” He really believed it too. So that’s why I think when so many people told us, “This isn’t going to work. People aren’t going to want to buy this. Eden Prairie doesn’t need this,” I kept saying, “Yes, we do; we can do it.” My mother was very stoic, Swedish and strong. She’d always say, “OK, let’s just do it now; let’s just get it done.” Of the 2,600 volunteers, a good majority of them have been women. This is not a pretty job. It’s not glamorous for five seconds. It’s dirty, you’re going through other peoples’ items, you’re cleaning, fixing, moving furniture. Women have done incredible things and work so hard.
Outside of Prop Shop, what is the thing that brings you the most joy?
My girls. Lisa is an attorney working for a federal judge in Milwaukee, and Emily is in human resources for Target. Bob and I will have been married 35 years. May 14, I met him in college. I wouldn’t be doing any of this without his support; he’s been unbelievable. First not putting car in garage, he drives the van with volunteer kids every Saturday, delivering and picking up furniture. We do everything ourselves, we don’t hire anyone, when we have extra money we buy stuff for families.
What is your advice for young women?
Don’t listen to someone telling you you can’t do it. People are negative. Don’t ever give up. There are incredible things being done all over the world every minute. We had a thousand people tell us not to do this, that we wouldn’t get donations, you’re not going to make it. We heard every negative thing and we stopped listening and just tried it. Those people who say it can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt the people doing it.