More than 50 years ago, a group of Marana ladies, most of them wives of farm owners, began gathering regularly for socializing, and for service.

The Cotton Blossoms had "a real concern" for disadvantaged local residents, and did things to help them, according to town historian and former Mayor Ora Mae Harn. The Cotton Blossoms were "very instrumental in raising money for the Marana Health Center," which has provided basic health care in the community for 51 years.

Harn can rattle off the names of families who gave time and energy to the Cotton Blossoms for generations. That legacy of service is honored at The Cotton Blossom Thrift Store, an affiliate of Marana Health Center Inc., with a mission to generate money for "ongoing and new health-related community programs of the Marana Health Center and its satellite locations."

"This is exciting, isn't it!" said Imelda Pines, the diminutive, exuberant manager of the Cotton Blossom, who greeted guests to Wednesday's grand opening and ribbon cutting event at the West Marana Road location, between the Circle K and National Bank of Arizona hard by I-10 at the Marana Road exit.

The Cotton Blossom Thrift Store is "a true tribute to those people who worked years ago" to create the Marana Health Center, Harn said. "This speaks to the goal they had in mind. I'm so glad to see this happen."

The store has been open for nearly a month now, in a building leased from Susan Ong. Mayor Ed Honea remembered the building housed a Chinese restaurant, became George's Café, and was empty for many years.

"The building was in rather sad shape when we started in," said Clarence Vatne, MHC's executive director. A large group of people worked diligently to fix up the building and get the store ready to open. Vatne, Pines and others expressed thanks to the volunteers, clad in light brown T-shirts with the Cotton Blossom logo. Pines, in T-shirt, green apron and green hat, shared a big hug with Carol McGorray, the town councilwoman and MHC director who herself was a Cotton Blossom.

The Cotton Blossom Thrift Store has the items you'd expect to find in a thrift store -- books, art work, picture frames for $1 and $2, a coin counter, many office chairs, racks of clothing, stacks of linens, wine racks, pillows, purses, bags, dresses, greeting cards, shoes – including a rack of all red shoes — a nice couch for $39, and a cherry-finish hutch that sold new for $1,673. You can pick it up – with strong help – for $359. All the merchandise is "clean, gently used" and at a "reasonable price," the mission statement indicates, with the goal of raising money for a good cause, namely to help people be healthy.

Honea, whose recently passed mother Wynema was a Cotton Blossom, said the citizens of Avra Valley are "a family," regardless of faith and ethnicity. They "really love and respect each other and want to work together."

"It's been a dream of the board of directors, and Clarence, for this to happen," said Harn.

"It finally happened," one volunteer said.

The Cotton Blossom Thrift Store

11851 West Marana Road,

Suite 105

10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

To donate, or to volunteer, call Imelda Pines at 682-1094

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