Marguerite “Margie” Schaefer, who founded Riverview Church Thrift Store, died in December at the age of 94.
By Janine Faust
Photo of Margie Schaefer behind the counter at Riverview Church Thrift Store in Observatory Hill, which she founded. Courtesy of Martha Schaefer
Marguerite “Margie” Schaefer believed in serving first and talking later, according to her family.
Her daughter, Martha Schaefer, said her mother’s perspective first registered with her during a group meeting at the North Hills Reformed Presbyterian Church—later to be incorporated into Riverview United Presbyterian Church—in the early 1980s. A small child wearing holey, worn-out Mary Janes sat on Martha’s lap, and Margie immediately told her daughter to get the girl new shoes from the thrift store upstairs.
“I never saw poverty on a child before; it really affected me,” Martha said. “That story is my mother. That there is a need and we need to respond now.”
Marguerite “Margie” Schaefer of Ross Township died peacefully on Dec. 30, 2019 at the age of 94. She is remembered by many in the Northside community for establishing the Riverview Church Thrift Store and
Riverview Food Bank in Observatory Hill. She is survived by her husband William “Bill” Schaefer and their three children Martha, Craig, and Stephen Schaefer, as well as three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Margie grew up in West View, the daughter of Clarence and Marguerite Stroje and sister of Robert Stroje. She loved dogs and music and began singing in church choirs at the age of 14. She met her husband Bill in a choral group and the couple moved to Ross Township after marrying in 1954. There, Margie worked as a homemaker and became active in the North Hills Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Bill and Martha are not certain what inspired Margie to convince their skeptical priest to let her set up a church thrift store in 1978, but both cited her kindness, faith, and perseverance as motivators.
“She was always close to the church,” Bill said. “If she had been born later she would have been a great business woman. She had a good memory, a good head, she was determined.”
Martha said in its early years, the thrift store consisted of racks of donated clothing stored in the balcony of the North Hills Reformed Presbyterian Church. Items cost between five to 25 cents, though her mother would give away clothes free of charge to many, including individuals heading to job interviews and residents who had lost their homes to fires.
“This really gave her purpose a different way than being a wife or mother, which were no less valuable,” Martha said. Martha said her mother’s desire to support her community led her to establish a food bank through the church, using funds from the thrift store. Bill said they thought the food bank, which now serves residents in Observatory Hill, Perry Hilltop, and Northview Heights, would be a temporary service for those out of work during the 1980s steel crisis. However, it proved to be a lasting community resource.
“As it turns out, you always have elderly people, single mothers with children, disabled people in the
community,” Bill said.
Riverview Food Bank was established inside of Riverview United Presbyterian Church in 1983, which formed following a merger between the North Hills Reformed Presbyterian Church and two other Presbyterian churches. Riverview Church Thrift Store moved around a few times before purchasing its current independent location, also on Perrysville Ave., in 1990.
The thrift store now also sells books and housewares. Bill said that so many clothes are donated to the thrift store each week that it’s hard to keep track of what comes in and out. After bills, proceeds still go to the food bank, as well as Riverview Church and other charities.
Currently, the food bank serves an average of 40-60 people every Tuesday, Bill said. Up to 800 pounds of food are donated by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank and Giant Eagle every week. Aaron Green, who has been visiting the Riverview Food Bank for about four years, said he appreciates that Margie always maintained an open and caring environment.
“She was very sweet. Very beautiful person, treated people equally,” Green said. “She never hollered and saw that people were able to get what they needed.”
Martha said her mother was very concerned with the dignity of the people she served. During Riverview Food Bank’s early years, her mother let visitors pick out their own food instead of handing it to them in a bag, which was the standard practice then.
“The messiness of people’s lives, it doesn’t show on the page,” Martha said. “She said it is hard enough to be hungry and in a position of need and then have someone else tell you what to eat; it’s an insult to your dignity.”
Audrey McCarthy and Candy Nemec, two longtime Riverview Church parishioners and thrift store volunteers, recounted how she set up funds at the store for homeless individuals and Northside residents who lost their homes to landslides.
“Her compassion for everyone…that’s why a lot of people loved Margie and would come [to the thrift store] when she was there,” Nemec said.
Audrey said Margie worked at the thrift store and food bank up until a couple years before she died. She continued being involved up until her death.
“She had a warmth about her smile,” she said. “She remembered when you told her something, asked how your family was doing.”
Bill said the Schaefer family is donating Margie’s clothing to the thrift store in her memory. Martha said her mother considered serving to be as natural as breathing—an idea she and Bill instilled in the Schaefer family’s culture.
“She’ll be very missed in the community. Very much missed in her family,” Martha said.