At the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers in Washington, DC sits Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, home to dozens of critical commands across all branches of the armed forces. While tens of thousands of service members are based out of JBAB, only a few hundred actually live there.
Also housed on the base is a Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society thrift shop, operated under the auspices of NMCRS Navy Yard three miles north. Several years ago, the building housing the thrift shop was razed, forcing the shop to close for six months until a new location and group of volunteers were secured.
In August 2016, the Society asked Beth Mulloy and Kathy Rixey, both Navy spouses, to help revive the shop and get it running on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the day. Ann King, whose husband has served in the Marines for 31 years, and Kim Adams, whose husband was the NDW Deputy Commandant, soon joined the crew working to revitalize the shop.
“I didn’t have any background in retail, so I went to NMCRS Annapolis’s thrift store and asked if they could train me,” recalled Kathy Rixey. “I wrote everything down and took pictures. I learned what kind of donations they accepted and how they sorted them, and how they displayed everything on the sales floor.”
Kim Adams, an interior designer by trade, helped make the shop look like a chic boutique rather than just a collection of used stuff. With an influx of new volunteers reshaping the space and working in the shop, word quickly spread beyond the base and donations began pouring in.
“A lot of service members PCS from DC to other places and then come back, so they donate items to us when they leave and when they return,” explained Ann King. “Because they live all over the world, we receive all kinds of amazing donations. We’ve gotten sake glasses, Ikebana vases, and a beautiful screen from Okinawa, Japan. We’ve received donations of traditional beer steins and a handmade cuckoo clock from Germany. We even got a framed, handstitched image of a US flag on a silk pillowcase made in the Philippines in the 1940s. Back then when Sailors would pull into some foreign ports, people would be there selling them pillowcases to send back to their mothers as gifts. This was one of these. You have no idea what treasure awaits you when you come into the shop!”
Customers often come in looking for specific items from other countries, or distinctly American things to bring with them when they travel overseas as gifts.
The thrift shop’s grand reopening in October 2016 was met with fanfare from the military community. “We’ve had tremendous support from the spouses of the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant. They’ve come to visit the shop, recruited volunteers, and given donations. Their support has been wonderful,” said Rixey.
The military chaplain corps also helps connect service members with the shop, especially in times of crisis. Chaplains often refer Sailors and Marines and their families to Melodie Weddle, director at NMCRS Navy Yard, who can give out vouchers for the shop if needed. Commands and service members also call on Weddle in emergencies when a service member needs new uniforms or a family needs basics because of a fire or other disaster. “The chaplains have been a huge source of support. They even come in and pray for the shop and for the volunteers!” said King.
Because of the hard work of the shop’s volunteers and the relationships they’ve cultivated throughout the region’s military community, there’s much greater awareness of the shop. Now that it’s open from 11 to 1 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, service members can come on their lunch breaks even if they work at the Pentagon or Navy Yard.
“I remember one young sailor came in who had been up doing exercises since 4am,” recalled King. “He and his shipmates liked visiting the shop. He told us, ‘We may not have much money, but we can come in and find something here, and you all are the friendliest people we’ve ever met.’”
Another young Sailor came into the shop and told volunteers he needed something to wear to meet his fiancée’s parents. Volunteers helped him find a sharp blazer, pants, and accessories that fit well and looked good, all for eight dollars. He called his fiancée from the shop and said, “I’m coming to dinner and I’m not wearing my uniform!”
Several active duty volunteers focus on keeping the uniform room organized and current. “Our active duty volunteers tell us what items are no longer part of regulation uniforms, and we have a book that details each uniform element in case anyone shopping has a question,” said King.
Even when uniforms are out of date, they can still be useful. Last fall the shop hosted a group of newly selected chiefs for coffee and donuts and an opportunity to buy old uniforms that they could wear during induction season training exercises. Volunteers also collected camouflage uniforms that are no longer in use for a combat emergency training exercise at Marine Corps Base Quantico. “They wear old uniforms and simulate battlefield injuries so nurses and corpsmen can go in and diagnose and treat them,” explained King.
As one of the Society’s flagship thrift shops, the JBAB shop was among the first to pilot an electronic payment system, beginning in February 2019. For the first time, customers were able to pay with debit or credit cards. “Our sales have doubled,” reported Rixey. “Everyone is happy they can use a card, and it’s streamlined our processes for making sales and closing at the end of the day.”
Volunteering at the JBAB thrift shop has proved to be a rewarding experience for King and Rixey. “We have a very giving group of volunteers who drive in from all over the region,” said King, “and all of us feel passionate about helping the Society.”
King’s son is a Marine stationed on Camp Pendleton, and Rixey has two sons who are Captains in the Marine Corps at Quantico and a daughter-in-law who is a Navy lieutenant and pilot. “Our families know all about our work with the Society and we try to include them in what we do,” Rixey said. “We are grateful to the Marines and Sailors and what they give to the nation, so if we can do something for them, that’s what it’s all about.”
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso