Interview by Pam Higginbotham. Photos by Jan Osborn.
Judy Russell never dreamed that following in her mother’s footsteps would have led to 31 years of volunteer service at St. Michael’s Woman’s Exchange. Her mother set an example of giving back and created a legacy of service that has changed many lives in the Dallas area. In the beginning, Judy volunteered by working on the sales floor. This experience eventually led to her becoming the Chairman of the Purchase Team, the largest department in the store, for 23 years. She has watched the organization grow and change over the years and is grateful for every moment. This year, Judy decided to resign from her position as Chairman, but is continuing her volunteer journey at St. Michael’s. She is adding another chapter to the beautiful story of honoring a family legacy through service.
How long have you been volunteering with St. Michaels?
This is my 31st year!
Tell me about how your mom began volunteering with the organization and how that influenced and inspired you to follow in her footsteps.
When I moved to Dallas in 1991, I knew about the Exchange in Highland Park Village because my mother had volunteered there in the 1970’s. I also knew that you did not have to be an Episcopalian to be qualified to volunteer there. The Exchange welcomes volunteers of all faiths.
What organizations benefit from the proceeds you donate and what is that process? Are there any specific requirements for religious affiliations to be part of St. Michaels?
St. Michael’s Woman’s Exchange is a retail store, gift shop, and boutique that sells wonderful merchandise selected by the volunteer buying teams of the Exchange. The store is involved in the process of making money through selling gifts and services to support charities and for the needs of individuals in Dallas.
Each year we send the gift of our profit to a committee of women at the church who then send the funds out to the community. No money is ever retained by the church as all funds are considered outreach. A list of charities that receive our money each year is on a card at the desk at the Exchange. Customers are welcome to take a card. We have given to many charities in the last sixty-four years and more than ten million dollars have been received by them.
How have you seen the organization change over the years?
The Exchange has certainly grown in 64 years! In the beginning, in the same location as today, they began with a gift wrap service; this service is still going strong today. Most of the merchandise sold was consigned in those days. Gradually, as they began to make money, they started to purchase gifts at Market centers. The store has always been run by volunteers and still is today, but we do have three paid employees because the store is so much larger. Today, we have a manager, assistant manager, and a housekeeper. We have a sophisticated computer system, printed tags for merchandise, and an online store for our customers’ convenience. You can find our online store at: smwexchange.com
How has volunteering impacted you personally, and how has it impacted the community?
I have been fortunate to have the Exchange in my life. I think those of us who volunteer there get a lot more out of it than we give. We have friends who are like family to us, and I love the constant changing of products, opportunities, wonderful customers, great representatives of gift lines, and the conversations!
We get busy doing all that we do and then suddenly, one day, you run into a person who heard you volunteer at the Exchange and they express to you how much it meant to them at a terrible time in their lives. Our efforts changed their lives! It is stunning to comprehend that what we do and what we sell makes such a difference to so many.
I have enjoyed my years there and for the last 23 years I have been chairman of the purchase team, the largest department in the store. My job consists of being the head buyer for our team, designer of displays and windows each week, coordinator of seasonal merchandise and themes. I have also chaired four moves our store has made in the last 30 years in the Village. I have loved every minute of it! This year I have decided to resign all of that and just be a volunteer!
What do you hope to see as the organization moves forward?
Right now, this January, 2022, the Exchange is closed for a “refresh.” We are not only doing some painting and repairs, but also rethinking our store and how it functions. We plan to reopen January 24th and welcome our customers back to what we feel is a better version of ourselves. I can only imagine in the future that this will happen over and over again, making our store stay current and exciting for all our volunteers and customers. This will make it possible to help as many people in Dallas as we possibly can.
SInce moving to Dallas in the nineties, what do you love about our city and how has it changed over the years? Any favorite activities or places to visit?
I date my move to Dallas is 1991, but actually, my family moved here from Midland in 1955. I discovered then that Dallas was full of wonderful stores. From the moment we moved here from West Texas, I loved Neiman-Marcus! They had just opened the first store in the suburbs at Preston Center and I loved it!
For me, going downtown t and seeing Mr. Stanley walking around the store was the best!! I was terribly impressed the first Christmas here that NM had tumbleweeds sprayed gold with a red bow that sold them for $25! One of my jobs as a kid in Midland was to take the tumbleweeds that blew down the street out from between our house and the house next door. A sticky nuisance, selling for $25? I was impressed and captivated by retail and the imagination and creativity behind it!
What opportunities are available to volunteer at St. Michael’s?
St. Michael’s needs volunteers. If you are interested, please come by and visit with one of our managers or one of our great volunteers. Like me, you might want to begin volunteering by selling on the floor, or gift wrapping, or being a cashier.
Perhaps you would rather open boxes in the back hall, tag new merchandise, do computer work for one of the departments. Whatever sounds good, this spring or summer is a great time to begin so you will be acquainted with the merchandise and fellow volunteers before the fall rush!
What advice would you give someone that is looking to follow in your footsteps and volunteer long term?
Go for it! Enjoy every minute!
Each May the proceeds from St. Michael’s Woman’s Exchange are distributed to those in need, via grants to agencies and charities in our city, our state, our country and the world. Since 1958, over $10 million has been given away. St. Michael’s Woman’s Exchange is open Monday – Saturday 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, go to smwexchange.com.