PEOPLE MAKE THE WORLD GO ROUND: Behind the scenes at the thrift store!

Jennifer Ellis
By Jennifer Ellis
April 29th, 2014

The Rossland Health Care Auxiliary Society Thrift Store was a hum of activity when I arrived to talk to the volunteers early last week. Mondays are sorting days and sixteen women moved around me bantering back and forth, and moving piles of shoes, toys and clothes from one place to another their backroom area.

Spring is a busy time for the Thrift Store as many people clean out their houses when the snow melts and the back porch of the store is continually laden with garbage bags of stuff–stuff that has to be evaluated, sorted, cleaned, mended, priced, repurposed and in some cases recycled or placed in the garbage. One can hardly imagine the amount of stuff that flows through that little store on an annual basis, mostly from our small town.

The sorting volunteers, who range in age from thirty-four to ninety-one, work from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm every Monday and Thursday to sort that stuff, with some arriving early to start the coffee. Once that group is done with their sort, other volunteers arrive to help with the recycling, washing, mending and garbage. Then the stuff good enough to sell is put out into the store and sold to all of us by the gracious volunteer clerks that staff the store on Wednesdays and Fridays.

The Thrift Store is run like a well-oiled machine. Many of the sorters have an area that they specialize in ranging from clothes, to ski equipment, to wool, to jewelry, to stationary, to toys, to books, to Christmas stuff. Called ‘conveners’, these particular volunteers are responsible for that area and make sure that those items are organized and prepared for sale. In addition, the Thrift Store has a colour-coded tagging system for ensuring that the clothes only stay on the racks for six weeks. The item starts with three tags and every two weeks a tag is removed so that they know exactly how long it has been there.

The multiple recycling streams–from metals, to clothes that are sent to Vancouver, to cotton that is shredded for rags, to electronics–are staggering. Some volunteers are responsible for checking on the stuff on the back porch because it gets stolen. They also run special events, such as toy sales at Christmas and collectables sales. The collectables sale can raise a significant amount of money because the items are more valuable and therefore are sold for higher prices.

In all, the amount of people-power that goes into that little store is truly astounding. In February 2014 alone, there were 400 volunteer hours spent at the Thrift Store sorting our old stuff. Some people volunteer up to twenty hours a week, and many of them also volunteer for other organizations in our community. The whole operation has the feel of briskness and efficiency. The women paused in their sorting for a few minutes to have coffee with me at 10:00 am, but aside from a few who remained to help me collect the information for this article, most hurried back to their tasks.

Why do these women and a handful men do it? Because the store is run by volunteers and the auxiliary society owns the building, 96 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the stuff donated to the Thrift Store goes toward buying equipment for our regional hospital.

But it is more than that. “It’s also a social thing,” noted one of the volunteers, and from what I could observe this is true. The women joked, talked about their grandchildren, and exchanged knowing eye-rolls regarding some of the stuff left on their doorstep. One woman claimed to have learned English working at the Thrift Store. A four-year-old scampered around with the sorters on the day that I visited the Thrift Store, and they referred to the other children, now a little older, who had spent time with grandmothers helping the sorters. Many of the volunteers have been at it for many years. Most of the clerks are former sorters.

“We also get great bargains,” noted another with a laugh. And she is right. It was amazing to have the opportunity to look through the Thrift Store on sort day and see what great things are offered for sale.

I asked if they felt their customers shopped at the Thrift Store because they knew they were supporting the hospital. “I don’t think they know,” one volunteer said. “I think they are mostly here for the deals. But they do often say keep the change when they buy something.”

And the Thrift Store is not just a Rossland tradition. “People come from as far as Creston, Cranbrook and Northport to shop here,” observed one volunteer, “because we have great prices.” People also donate to the Thrift Store from many other communities in the region.

When asked for their overarching message to Rossland residents, some of the volunteers were philosophical. “That we all have too much stuff,” one observed. But in the spirit of the way the Thrift Store is run, many were completely practical ticking off the things that would help make their job easier.

“Tell them that we cannot deal with TVs and other big things. We don’t have the space. We would prefer if people did not leave valuable stuff on the porch. Bring it in. Keep the components of things together. If they get separated into different bags, they get lost. And of course it would be much nicer if people washed their stuff before dropping it off.”

But they were also thankful for the support that they receive from the people who donate stuff. “We have to throw a lot of stuff away. But we also get some really nice stuff dropped off.”

I ended my morning at the Thrift Store with the purchase of some wool in spring colours that my son informed me that he needed for a school art project that morning. When I said I needed the wool, to avoid having to drive to Trail for only one reason, one of the women smiled knowingly. “Of course. They always tell you they need something the morning of.” I was led into the well-organized shop, shown a variety of options and soon had four different colours of yarn at a bargain price of $1.75 for the lot. Of course, I told the clerk to keep the change.

And so I left them to continue their morning of sorting. Most of us do have too much stuff, but the Thrift Store is an essential part of trying to get that stuff to someone else in our community or neighbouring communities who needs it or wants it, while at the same time supplying our hospital with essential equipment. It is also a central link in getting much of our stuff sorted and to the right place to be recycled. Without the Thrift Store, much more of our stuff would end up in landfills. It is a fixture in our community and we should all be grateful for it and the multitude of volunteers that staff it. So, drop off some nice stuff that you don’t need, thank a Thrift Store volunteer, shop at the Thrift Store, and if you can, tell them to keep the change sometimes.

The Telegraph wants to profile all of the amazing people and groups who make our town what it is. No volunteering effort is too small. If you want to nominate a volunteer or a non-profit organization, or yourself, for a profile contact us here. We have received an amazing response and have lots of great volunteers queued up, but keep the suggestions coming.

Jennifer Ellis is a local writer and consultant. Her first novel, a middle-grade fantasy for adults and children on time travel, physics and witchcraft, entitled A Pair of Docks, is available on Amazon, at Café Books West and at Crockett and Company. Her second novel, due out in April, explores the issues of a non-money economy in a post-apocalyptic future.

Categories: GeneralProfile

Other News Stories