FUQUAY-VARINA, N.C. — In September 1999, two months before her mother died after living with Alzheimer’s disease for 12 years, Laura Gaddis opened a 1,400-square-foot thrift store in Fuquay-Varina with the idea of generating funds to support Alzheimer’s research.
The following year, Gaddis applied for and received nonprofit status for the organization, Guardian Angel Thrift, which in its first 10 years raised $1 million.
And last summer, the nonprofit’s board set a goal of raising $1 million more in five years.
“All my net profit goes to Alzheimer’s research each year,” says Gaddis, an Apex native who retired after a career as an insurance agent with the Alabama Farm Bureau to help care for her mother a year before she died.
Guardian Angel donates the money it raises to Alzheimers North Carolina, which user the funds to support Alzheimer’s research in the state.
So far, Alzheimers North Carolina has awarded research grants to Duke University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Caldwell Memorial Hospital in Hickory.
Gaddis is “one of the most committed individuals I’ve ever known,” says Alice Watkins, executive director of Alzheimers North Carolina. “We have been working and promoting together to make people aware of Alzheimer’s and to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research.”
With an annual budget of just over $1 million, Guardian Angel operates the thrift store and a sister store, Little Angel Home Goods, that sells donated clothing for children and adults, as well as furniture factory overstocks.
The two stores, which occupy 26,000 square feet at 742 North Main St. and 9,000 square feet at 732 North Main, respectively, both in the Fuquay-Varina Shopping Center, employ 48 people, including 10 to 15 who are seniors or people facing who otherwise might have a tough time holding a job.
The agency also works with volunteers, including individuals performing mandated community service.
Guardian Angel, which provides on-the-job training for employees, generated another $200,000 in 2010, funds were donated to Alzheimers North Carolina.
This year, 80 percent of the funds will be used for research grants, with the remainder to fund a program at Alzheimers North Carolina that offers respite care and training for caregivers who work with Alzheimer’s patients in their home.
The respite program has special meaning for Gaddis, whose father was the sole caregiver for her mother until he died in his sleep.
“I saw what dad went through with mom,” she says. “She was like a shadow to him. He was caring for an adult body with a child’s mind. It is so demanding for caregivers.”
Guardian Angel’s thrift store sells a broad range of donated items, although it does not accept mattresses and large appliances.
The nonprofit owns a box truck and two utility vans to pick up donated items, which it also accepts at a drop-off location in the rear of Realty Executives at Shoppes on the Parkway at 3655 Cary Parkway in Cary, a business owned by Gaddis’ brother, Donald Edwards.
Guardian Angel has been a family affair for Gaddis, who serves as executive director.
Her daughter Shari Gaddis, serves as district manager, and Gaddis’ sister, Martha, and Gaddis’ late husband, Dave, both served on the staff.
Over 170,000 people in North Carolina are affected by Alzheimer’s, a number that is expected to quadruple by 2025, according to Alzheimers North Carolina, which serves 51 counties in North Carolina from the Triangle to the coast, providing family support, community education and public awareness, and supports research for the prevention, cure and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.