SALISBURY — In 2009 when the Leeward Light opened its doors, few imagined a small thrift shop would end up giving more than $1.4 million to local charities in only seven years.

"It's very exciting when you see a business give back like this to establishments that help others," said Selectman Henry Richenburg, who was on the board that OK'd the license. "That's really a huge amount of money. It's heartwarming."

Rob Werner, and his wife, Shauna, held the company's annual "Evening of Gratitude" dinner recently, recognizing the volunteers and employees who make the Leeward LIght and its counterpart in York, Maine, run so successfully. Over the past year, he announced at the event, the Leeward Charitable Foundation donated $200,000 to charities in the two areas.

In this region served by Leeward Light's Salisbury thrift shop, several non-profit groups receive donations, including The Pettengill House, Amesbury-based Our Neighbors Table, Community Action Inc. of Haverhill, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Lower Merrimack Valley, Community Service of Newburyport, Seabrook Community Action, the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, the Salvation Army and others. 

According to Leeward Light spokeswoman Jeannette Nolan, money raised from the York thrift shop goes to organizations in York County.

"Our objective is to feed, clothe and comfort local families struggling to make ends meet," she said. "We have people who support us with donations of items on a regular basis. And our parking lot is always full with shoppers."

The Pettengill House is one of the original charities the Leeward Light took under its wing. According to Assistant Director Tiffany Nigro, the social service agency feels lucky to be one of the agencies that benefit.

"Sometimes we get a monthly donation from the Leeward Light because they realize with nonprofits it's hard to wait until December to get the money," Nigro said. "The amount varies month to month, but it's been a steady stream and a wonderful help to support our food pantry and purchase the necessary items to keep our shelves stocked with nutritious food. It truly is amazing how they've grown over the years."

Our Neighbors' Table also receives monthly donations from Leeward Light's charities, said Lyndsey Haight, the food service charity's executive director. 

"Since 2009, Leeward Light has contributed $135,000 to Our Neighbors' Table," Haight said on Monday. "That means 135,000 meals. That's a meal a day for 135 people. That's incredible." 

In the past, donations came from Leeward Industries, Inc, Nolan said, but within the last year Werner moved to create a formal charitable foundation. Regular donations to local nonprofits will continue, she said, but the foundation is also hoping to develop a method to combat the peer pressure that financially-strapped students endure at school. 

"Sometimes kids don't want to go to school because they're teased about their clothes," Nolan said. "The new program would provide money to kids in need so they can buy new clothes."

A former software industry marketer who traveled on business for 25 years, Werner spent a lot of time away from his family. He began Leeward Industries so he could spend time with them and also use the proceeds to help others.  

Shauna Werner said the effort is successful because of the support of many, including dedicated employees and dozens of volunteers.

"My crew works so hard," Shauna Werner said Monday.  "We operate six days a week (Tuesday through Sunday), nine hours a day." 

To volunteer or learn more about the Leeward Light, visit www.leewardfoundation.org 

Angeljean Chiaramida can be reached at 978-961-3147 or at achiaramida@newburyportnews.com.