What do a violin, ball gown, a Kitchen-Aid mixer, and children’s books have in common? All of them have been featured in the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Guam thrift shop’s weekly ads, resulting in a long line outside the shop every Wednesday morning before it opens. As of August 2019, the shop had taken in $12,000 more in year-to-date revenue than the previous year.
“Our shop has really embraced and been embraced by the community,” said NMCRS Guam Director Karen Fahland. “We’re helping service members get gently used items at reasonable prices and supporting the Society’s mission. The growth in the shop’s success has gone beyond my wildest expectations.”
Each week Irish Jordan, thrift shop lead at NMCRS Guam for the past year, creates an ad featuring dozens of photos of new and exciting inventory and the most popular sections of the shop, including children’s books and children’s shoes. She posts the ad on the shop’s Facebook page and shares it in a wide variety of Facebook groups on Guam where people look for bargains. “We started out getting 700 views of our ad per week, but now we’re up to 8,000,” Jordan explained.
The ads highlight items that typically sell quickly, including sewing machines, cameras, iPads, musical instruments, and books and shoes. While the shop is only open Wednesdays from 8:30am-12:30pm, the Guam thrift shop team is working behind the scenes the rest of the week sorting through the enormous amount of donations that arrive daily.
“We have a closet where people can leave donations,” Jordan said. “It’s about eight by eight by three. It gets packed to the ceiling several times a week.”
Jordan attributes the continuous flow of donations to a few factors. “The majority of our donations come from people who get on island and realize they just left a 3,000-square-foot house and they’re now living in a 1,000-square-foot house. Or, they’re PCSing to somewhere cold and realize they don’t need their snorkel gear or bicycle,” Jordan said. “Another big percentage of our donations come from people cleaning house. Marie Kondo [the Japanese author whose book and television show advise people to aggressively tidy] really hit us hard at the beginning of the year. We were overwhelmed by donations!”
NMCRS Guam’s thrift shop is physically small, but creatively mighty. The shop takes up one half of a duplex whose other half houses the NMCRS office. The shop includes the sales floor and the back room where donations are sorted. “We keep only the highest quality items, and we put everything else in one of three piles,” Jordan explained. “Donate to other thrift shops on the island, donate to off-island organizations, or trash.”
The NMCRS thrift shop—which is only open to service members and others who have credentials to get on base—has a strong working relationship with several thrift shops around the island where anyone can shop. A significant income disparity on Guam means that a large number of residents live in poverty, so thrift shops are a boon for families on a tight budget.
Relationships with other nonprofits and the US Coast Guard have enabled the thrift shop to bundle, store, and transport some items to take them to neighboring islands, putting them to good use and keeping them out of the landfill in Guam.
While the shop takes in tons of donations and attracts plenty of shoppers, a small volunteer team limits the shop’s open hours to four a week. As director, Fahland has discretion to make exceptions. “If an active duty service member calls the office and needs something from our uniform locker, I’ll let them in to shop anytime I’m here,” Fahland said. “Or if a family moves in and they’re brand new to Guam and don’t have any of their household goods, I’ll let them come in and shop.”
“The military community here is small,” said Jordan. “Either they’re dual military or both parents work somewhere, or they’re home with young kids.” During the summer, many military families return home for long stretches, so it’s especially hard to find available volunteers.
The volunteers who have committed to the thrift shop, however, are a dedicated team. “We’ve tried to find a person for each section of the store,” Jordan said. “Sharon and Vicky do linens. They inspect them for stains, determine the size, and label them. It’s really time consuming. Gladys does toys. We get bags and boxes of hundreds of pieces of random things. She sorts through and figures out what goes with what and bags them up. Deanna organizes children’s clothing. Bethany organizes jewelry. Bridget took on co-lead this summer and was voted volunteer of the quarter. Stacey, Bridget, Bethany, Deanna, Valerie, and I run the register. Trish, Helen, and Nicki sort clothes and housewares. These women work hard!” The Guam thrift shop team is an amazing group of people who come together for a common goal – to support the Naval Base Guam community.
Managing NMCRS Guam’s thrift shop is Jordan’s first experience as a Society volunteer, but she’s always been a thrift store aficionado. “I’m a frugal person,” she said. “I love shopping at Goodwill. Almost everything I wear comes from a thrift store. I’m all about recycling and reusing, so I really enjoy helping with the Society thrift shop here.”
“We couldn’t ask for a better team,” Fahland said. “People know Irish and her team in the community. When they go to the commissary people will ask whether there’s anything new in the shop. The word is out! Now everyone knows about the NMCRS thrift shop!”
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso