In these days of conscientious stewardship of our resources, cautious management of our money and caring for our fellow travelers, there is an enterprise going on in Victoria which successfully reflects and expands those timely principles. St. Aidan’s United Church Thrift Shop has been thriving for over twelve years. It has become an integral part of our church and wider community.
It started in 1997 when Sylvia Campbell came home from a trip to Montreal, with news of an exciting visit to St. George’s Anglican Church and their successful store. Karen Dickey, our minister, suggested asking Stewards about the vacant space in the lower part of our new building, look into funding for shelving, and it’s been growing ever since.
With Sylvia, Joan Martin and Audrey Laing at the helm, the Thrift Shop, which started with 16 volunteers from the congregation, now has more than 40 volunteers (many from the surrounding community). In a recent fun survey, we discovered the average in age of our staff is 72! Everyone within the group has a task and plays an essential role. There is the team that sorts the clothing donations. There is always someone at the ironing board, someone working in the laundry room. The people who sort the housewares identify items for our annual Bazaar, boxing them away ‘til fall. A group of men test and display the electronics and mechanical goods, as well as do our home pick-ups of donations.
Men’s, women’s and children’s clothing are the biggest draw – and the selection changes every week. Vintage clothes are popular with the local university students. Blouses in all colours and patterns, baby sleepers, blue jeans, athletic wear, tailored blazers – it’s amazing the array of articles that change hands every week. One lady discovered our Shop when she was part of a Hospice drop-in support group at the church, and is always on the look out for dresses and shoes. Her best score was a pair of black pumps, made in Canada, that she has worn almost daily – they have had a full ‘second life’. A gracefully-dressed woman, she was very pleased with a delicate shell necklace she recently found. She was also taking home a puka shell ankle bracelet for her son.
The housewares and electronics section are always buzzing with a wide range of shoppers: students starting up a household, a young man who collects old records, an older fellow who admires and refurbishes vintage stereo systems, a woman who holds fine pottery in very high esteem. The “English china lady” is always a cheerful addition to the mix. She grew up with jumble sales at home, lives in the neighbourhood, and cannot get through a Wednesday without stopping by. Our Thrift Shop is now part of her community. What she appreciates most is the staff: “They are more than friendly, it’s not idle chatter – you can tell they care about their customers and each other.”
Before opening each week, the group has a 30 minute gathering to discuss Thrift Shop issues and ideas and share in prayer concerns and St. Aidan’s activities. The team has become its own small group ministry, finding that the caring that exists amongst them is easy to share with the strangers who come in their door. The Thrift Shop is open one day a week, and the last Saturday of the month, but that is enough to strengthen the warm relationships between customers and staff. One of the regular shoppers says that’s one of the main reasons she comes every week. Not only does she value the welcome she receives from Thrift Shop staff, but she and a few other shoppers gather before the Thrift Shop opens, share news of each other and family, a lost cat, or talk about what items they’re looking for. She spoke of “the humanity of community”. A self-described “writer who plays with fabric”, she appreciates that the staff know the kinds of items she likes: “a great piece of cotton just came in, let me show it to you.” A fine ball of wool is a treasure to her. One of her best finds were 4 skeins of linen with an interesting label and beautiful texture. She Googled the name on the label, and found that the yarn had probably been produced in Sweden in the 1950’s. She was thrilled with her discovery.
The Thrift Shop team is extremely proud of one its main roles: to provide clean, appropriate clothing and useable items to various community groups in the City. One of the main recipients is “Our Place” (formerly The Open Door, an inner city ministry of Victoria Presbytery). Each week a dedicated volunteer takes donations of clothing, sleeping bags and other articles to Our Place. Each year, approximately 500 boxes of clothing and articles are sent to the Salvation Army, who do their part in the next steps of recycling. The Times-Colonist Book Drive in support of literacy is a grateful recipient of donations from the Shop. The Compassionate Resource Warehouse is another. Victoria Women’s Transition House receives all the unopened toiletries received, as well as nightwear for women and children.
Needless to say, many members of the community who may not be able to afford retail prices for clothing and household goods find that they can go home with a full shopping bag, satisfied with the friendly shopping experience, and pleased with their purchases. Another regular who heard about the Shop from a dancing partner, confesses to loving clothes, but on his limited income, he is “not able to shop at The Bay”. Calling it “surprise shopping” – he’s found shoes, a snappy suit that fits him perfectly, tablecloth and napkins and an electric keyboard. He was especially pleased with a pair of tri-focal eyeglasses. He said they “might not be exactly right, but they’re what I can afford.”
The “Friendly Octopus” moniker emerged as it became clear that the Shop reaches out into the wider district, and it is this aspect that gives staff the warmest glow. The Core Values of St. Aidan’s Church are: Hospitality, Inclusivity, Spiritual Growth and Reaching Out.” The Shop exemplifies and amplifies each of those values; it is a mirror of our faith. From French butter dishes to wool socks to ironing boards, the Shop sees a wide variety of articles pass through the doors, but the true measure of its success is found in the loyalty of its customers, the caring staff and the genuine friendship and support that radiates throughout this enterprising community.