Business owner puts charity before profit

Published 11:11 pm Saturday, January 19, 2013

BOUNTIFUL BLESSINGS: Iris Spruill fills Sam Marsh’s bags with groceries. She spends every Saturday afternoon passing out food at Washington Square Mall.

Iris Spruill had to hire someone to cover for her at her music store every Saturday. The hours interfered with her pubic-service work.
She learned that a grocery-store warehouse gives food nearing the end of its shelf life to churches, nonprofits and basically anyone with a mission to distribute the goods in their communities.
Her son, the Rev. Rodney Coles, has an outreach ministry in Greenville He told her about the program.
“I tried to get local churches to do it, but couldn’t find anyone interested,” she said. “I went home and prayed.”
So, Spruill hired someone to help out at Paradise Music and started making the weekly treks to Greenville to load up on the free groceries.
She then rented commercial space located on the back end of Washington Square Mall. The signage on the door still says it’s a thrift shop, but Spruill is not concerned with that. Somehow, in the year she has been passing out the free groceries, the word has gotten out. Spruill opens the little storefront at about 2 p.m. and sits in there until the goods are gone, usually about two hours later.
Spruill doesn’t screen those who come through her door.
“I feel like I don’t know your problems, but I understand them,” she said.
Sam Marsh comes every week. Recently, he left with his hands full of pastries, bread, fresh produce and a meat platter.
“The way things are now, everybody needs help,” Marsh said. “Any help you can get, if it ain’t nothing but a piece of bread, it’s a God-send.”
Spruill only asks that customers sign in so that she has some record of those she has helped. She also asks for donations to cover the gas and the $25 monthly membership fee she pays to be a part of the food-distribution program.
“You can have the groceries with or without the donations. But, if you can spare it, I’d appreciate it,” she said to those standing in line.
Spruill told just about everyone who came through the door that her son’s outreach ministry would be handing out free, uncooked whole chickens Jan. 26.
Karl Dailey, manager of Washington Square Mall, said Spruill is always reaching out to people.
“We need a lot more folks like that,” he said. “It’s not the big things you do. It’s the little things.”
Spruill would like to help her community with more than just a handout.
“Another dream I have is opening a business where everybody could be their own boss. I’d like to be a wholesaler,” she said.
She recalled wholesale distributers in her native New York. Distributors would extend credit for the first order. People would start as street vendors, selling watches, clothes or purses then return to the distributors to place a second order and pay for their first one.
Spruill said she was disappointed when she moved to Beaufort County and did not see many upstarts.
“Now, they’re closing up more businesses than ever,” she said.
Spruill has had several businesses since she moved to Beaufort County, and the ideas for new ones just keep coming.
“We all are gifted in some kind of way,” she said. “I guess my gift is talking, loving and selling. My husband said, ‘You could sell a monkey a peanut.’”
Spruill retired a few years ago, closing her Main Street clothing store. That retirement was short-lived.
She went to New York and got two of her great-grandsons out of foster care, got custody of them and brought the 15-month-old and 7-month-old home to Washington. The youngest is now 6 years old.
“I’ve had them, and God has just like opened doors,” she said. “God sometimes comes in your life and has a plan.”
Spruill said she decided she needed a new business to give her a break from raising two young kids. Her husband watches them while she runs her music store.
For those interested in starting a business, Spruill had one bit of advice.
“Ask God anything and believe,” she said. “My mother had enough faith to move a mountain and she instilled that in me.”