Madison Gold Star couple aid veterans through thrift store

2022-07-06 21:12:12 By : Ms. Eva Wan

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Helen Kaiser-Pedersen, CEO of APK Charities, next to a life-size photograph of her deceased son, Special Forces Captain Andrew Pedersen-Keel, at the entrance to the APK Charities Desert Eagles Nest Thrift Store in Madison on June 30.

A crystal chandelier for sale at the APK Charities Desert Eagles Nest Thrift Store in Madison on June 30, 2022.

Collectible Wheaties cereal boxes for sale at the APK Charities Desert Eagles Nest Thrift Store in Madison on June 30, 2022.

Racks of clothes for sale at the APK Charities Desert Eagles Nest Thrift Store in Madison on June 30, 2022.

MADISON — Hanging high in the back of the Desert Eagles Nest Thrift Store is a vintage Waterford Crystal Avoca, six-arm chandelier, dripping with prisms.

The light fixture is wired and brightens up the room. Priced on eBay for up to $5,000, it is $1,500 at the newly opened thrift shop.

The 1,100-square-foot store has been open about a month and has developed quite a following.

With maroon curtains hanging on the windows and the door open to welcome a breeze, Bob Keiser and store manager Jan Cameron talked about unusual finds and the shop’s special mission.

“This is the kind of thing we’re dealing with here,” said Keiser, smiling as he looked up at the chandelier.

Cameron spends a great deal of time researching donations to determine their worth.

“I love it,” she said. “The unique items that come in and meeting all the people and knowing it’s going to a good cause, helping veterans.”

The money, 100 percent of it, goes directly to APK Charities to provide financial aid and material assistance to military personnel and their families.

Organizers Keiser and his wife Helen Keiser-Pedersen, of Madison, are passionate about giving back to military families and soldiers. Helen Keiser-Pedersen’s only son, Army Capt. Andrew Michael Pedersen-Keel, was killed in action on March 11, 2013, in Afghanistan. The 28-year-old was serving as the commander of his special forces detachment.

The couple created the nonprofit organization APK Charities to support active, retired, wounded and fallen warriors and their families through financial aid and material assistance.

The donations come from a myriad of places.

“People know us,” said Keiser. “We’re starting to be so well known in the area.”

“We’ve been putting stuff out in the church bulletins in town and in Guilford and Jan has a Facebook page and we’re getting more requests to donate … we have another storage [area] because we have so much stuff,” he said.

Cameron, standing in the store, talked about the wide variety of donations.

“Everything just changes in here so much,” she said. “We have unique things always coming in, which is what I love.”

There is the curious rosewood Chinese corner armchair with either inlaid mother of pearl or tortoise shell.

“We’re trying to determine if it’s mother of pearl or tortoise shell,” said Keiser. “We’re trying to determine because if it is [mother of pearl] it could be worth up to $2,000.”

In the jewelry department, a faux pearl necklace bears the famous Coco Chanel logo in gold tone metal with seed pearls. The question is, the pair said, is it a real Chanel piece or a knock off?

In the shop, the usual thrift store items can be found in abundance.

Lining the shelves are children’s toys, puzzles, games and novelties. Racks are filled with brand name clothing for men, women and children, including high-end labels such as Free People, Brooks Brothers, Reformation Jeans, Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, Lord & Taylor and Tommy Bahama.

Then there are record players, vinyl records, CDs and tapes, as well as bicycles, strollers, chairs, dressers, side tables and dishware.

While Desert Eagles Nest sells its inventory directly to customers to raise money, it also donates items to veterans who are setting up a household or in need of something specific.

Cameron said some of the items are donated “specifically for a veteran in need.”

These include dog beds, a dog kennel, a lift chair.

“It feels good,” she said. “My husband is a disabled vet, so to see this all come together is just great.”

Jeff Hodges, a landscaper from East Hartford, is a frequent contributor to the store. He has connections all over the area and personally arranges pickups and deliveries to Desert Eagles Nest, he said.

“I have several real estate clients and they pass my name to people who are selling their homes or buying new homes and so, I started building momentum,” he said.

“As long as someone can utilize it and it helps them and it’s in good shape, I pick it up,” he said.

Hodges has lost track of the number of deliveries he has made to Madison over the last year. Much of it was stored in preparation for the opening.

“I hope that what I’m doing brings joy and happiness to someone,” he said. “I don’t get to see the smiling face of the recipient of items, I don’t get to see that, but that’s OK.”

“I like the fact that I’m helping someone,” he said.

Keiser talked about the importance of the Desert Eagles Nest Thrift store and APK Charities.

“It’s just something we have to do,” he said, standing amidst all the donations, taking a moment to compose himself.

“Andrew’s kind of driving us to do this, to be honest,” he said, getting emotional.

The money coming in to the thrift store will be used by APK Charities to continue their work.

“We’re almost 100 percent helping veterans in Connecticut, Gold Star families and active military,” Keiser said.

He said requests come from active military coming back from duty and working on assimilating into daily life.

“We know how difficult it is coming back and sometimes things don’t go well when you come back,” he said.

They are also working with are the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, which provides pro bono work to help veterans.

“We just got two requests to help two Vietnam veterans who were arrears on their rent and then they started getting late fees and the condo association started eviction procedures,” said Keiser.

“We’ll write a check for $1,000, or whatever, up to $5,000,” he said.

Requests for assistance also come from New Haven’s Columbus House, “if they have somebody who’s not being helped by the VA because it doesn’t fit their need, so we’ll fill in.”

APK Charities board member Tony Sicignano talked about the importance of the work.

“The veterans that we help, it’s just unbelievable what these poor people are going through,” he said. “If we can help them out in any way it’s just really heartwarming and satisfying that we help these guys or women that are struggling right now.”

“They gave their service to our country and unfortunately they fell on hard times and if can help out in any way, shape or form that’s just tremendous,” he said.

Desert Eagles Nest Thrift Store, 170 Fort Path Road, Unit 14, Madison; 860-662-6310; Facebook Desert Eagles Nest Thrift Store;