A new uniform can cost a Sailor or Marine hundreds of dollars. And Sailors and Marines typically need several uniforms to wear every day and for special occasions. So when a Seabag goes missing during a PCS, or a Sailor or Marine is pregnant and needs a new size, or if disaster strikes and a service member’s uniforms are lost or destroyed, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society’s thrift shops can be a life saver.
“We’re helping service members and their families who are struggling to make ends meet,” explained Cyndi Hill, who volunteers as the Society’s resident thrift shop expert. Based out of NMCRS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Cyndi assists NMCRS Director of Volunteers Barb Sheffer with managing the Society’s volunteer database and providing support to thrift shops all over the world.
Cyndi’s involvement with the Society began in 2009 when she and her husband PCS’d to Mayport, Florida. There she met Bill Kennedy, who recently retired as director of NMCRS Mayport, and he invited her to come volunteer. Cyndi served as a client services assistant, caseworker, and chair of volunteers during her three years there.
When her family next PCS’d to Naples, Italy for a year, Cyndi volunteered at the Society’s office there doing casework and outreach. “When people go overseas, they attend a base indoc, and I would go talk about the Society and what it does. I also recruited volunteers that way.” At the time, the thrift shop in Naples was run by a military spouses group, although it has since become an NMCRS thrift shop. That was where Cyndi got her first experience volunteering in a thrift shop.
Cyndi knew when she and her husband moved to DC in 2014 that she did not want to return to doing casework because it was so emotionally intense for her. Instead, she started volunteering at headquarters to help thrift shops throughout the Society. “My passion for volunteering at headquarters is about supporting the volunteers who directly help our service members. I am the subject matter expert on thrift shops, I manage the volunteer database, and I help update our policies. I’m also helping train our volunteers so they can do their best to serve our clients.”
In the past, many volunteers at NMCRS thrift shops stayed separate from other volunteers, focused on accepting and sorting donations, designing displays and marketing specials, and making sales. Cyndi has been working to train thrift shop volunteers to go beyond friendly salespeople to serve as ambassadors for the Society, letting other volunteers and customers alike know that they’re shopping for a good cause. “Our 30 thrift shops bring in more than a million dollars a year for the Society, and that money goes right back in to helping Sailors and Marines and their families,” Cyndi explained. “What our volunteers are doing in the thrift shops has a huge impact both on the customers who are buying things they need at great prices and on the Society as a whole.”
Most of Cyndi’s work for NMCRS headquarters is done online, so she has been able to sustain those volunteer duties while serving as the thrift shop lead at NMCRS Gulfport in 2016 and 2017, and completely overhauling the NMCRS Miramar thrift shop in 2018.
A game-changing initiative to accept electronic payments in NMCRS thrift shops launched in 2018, to great success. So far machines that accept debit and credit cards have been installed in a handful of shops, and sales in those shops have already increased dramatically. The Society plans to install electronic payment systems in every shop where it’s possible by the end of 2020.
In addition to her own experience as a military spouse, Cyndi’s daughter is married to an E5 Sailor. “I’ve seen them, like so many young military families, struggle financially. I know how helpful the Society can be—whether it’s providing financial assistance or offering the useful service of a thrift shop. We’re there to support our families.”
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso