Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Sandra Russell’s legacy of compassion
photos courtesy Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
As a child, Suzanne Keller’s Saturday mornings were often spent going to garage sales with her mother, Sandra, who loved nothing more than finding a good bargain.
“It was her hobby,” Suzanne said, “but she took it seriously. She took us all over the place … yard sales, thrift stores, you name it. She drove us to New Orleans to check out places like the Salvation Army stores. She would pick up things from the side of the road if she thought they could be useful to someone.”
So it didn’t surprise anyone in the family when Sandra announced that she felt called by God to open a thrift store – not as a way to earn income, but as a way to donate to worthy causes. Her business model was simple. The family would take in donations and keep half of the sale profits to cover their business costs. The other half would be donated to local charities.
“In other words, we were never going to make money from it,” said Suzanne. “It was simply a way to contribute to those in the community who needed help.”
That was in 1993. The Russell family worked hard at their new enterprise, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. They bought a sprawling building on Burbank Avenue and spent months getting it in shape. The facility still had dirt floors in some areas. But eventually, the new owners hung their rainbow-themed sign in front of the store and opened for business.
Sandra enjoyed her work – thanking donors, greeting customers and networking with local charities. Most of all, she loved knowing that her work was helping others. Her favorite philanthropies were the Battered Women’s Program and several local churches. “She loved her work,” said Suzanne. “Everything about it made her happy.”
On certain days of the week, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow offers 50% discounts to seniors, students and government employees. The store also participates in programs that provide prom dresses to young girls and business attire for women in need of low-cost professional clothing.
Sadly, Sandra died just five years after opening the store. It would have been easy to just close the doors at that point, but Sandra’s husband Gerry, who had just retired from his job at Shell Chemical, felt obligated to keep his wife’s dream alive. So, he took her place and for the last (almost) 20 years, has worked hard to keep the business going. Suzanne worked as many hours as she could considering she already had a full-time career. Since her own retirement a few years ago, she has worked almost full-time at the store. Her brother Donald has been instrumental in designing a software program used to ring up sales and ensure clients receive proper credit. Two other siblings helped along the way, but are no longer involved.
Inside Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, visitors can find just about anything – furniture, appliances, clothing, shoes, jewelry, LSU and Southern items, artwork, electronics, books, games and toys. There is even a section for vintage hats, clothing, and jewelry. Local residents and groups drop off donations, and volunteers spend hours sorting, organizing, tagging and displaying items for sale.
Local jeweler Rachael Lagarde started as a volunteer in 2013 and now works at the store part-time as Director of Operations and Marketing. Because of her background, she specializes in the jewelry and collectibles section of the store.
“I love my work because I have a chance to see the difference we’re making in people’s lives,” she said. “Whenever I’m having issues in my life, I’m reminded of the people we help – people starting over late in life, parents trying to make ends meet, women who have escaped abusive relationships – it humbles me and makes me realize my problems are small compared to theirs.”
Lagarde says her faith in the business never wavers, and she often sees God’s hand at unlikely moments. She describes a humorous incident to make her point, one that some might see as coincidence, but Lagarde views as an answered prayer.
“We were getting ready to ship some items through the mail and we had run out of bubble wrap,” she said. “We were also strapped for cash. I said a prayer for God to please help us and then I left the store to run errands. When I came back a few hours later, our cashier said there was a surprise in my office. I walked in and saw an enormous industrial-sized roll of bubble wrap. Apparently, it had fallen off the back of a truck going down the road in front of our store. There’s an incline from the road to our building, so when it fell off the truck, it literally rolled right down the hill and landed at our doorstep!”
Over the years, there have been many times when the family’s prayers were answered just in time to avert some disaster or disappointment. But their success is also based on the family’s commitment to Sandra Russell’s memory. “My father is 76 now,” said Suzanne. “He retired 20 years ago, and has ended up working another 20 years because of his love for my mom. Since we started the business, we’ve donated about $1.5 million to local organizations. I think he’s done a great job and deserves to take a break now.”
Suzanne says she is often asked about her goals. “Simple,” she says. “To keep going. To keep helping as long as people need us.”
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow is always in need of volunteers. If you are interested, call (225) 769-2259. For more information, visit the HTGT page on Facebook.