A visit to one of Atlanta Mission’s thrift stores is a unique experience. The first thing you’ll notice when you walk in is how sincerely happy the staff is to see you, and how helpful they are. You’ll likely receive a heartfelt, cheerful greeting, and if you’re having trouble finding what you need, someone will walk you right to what you’re looking for. It’s the kind of service you’d find in a high-end department store.
The Director of Thrift Ministry, Shana, says, “The team’s customer interactions aren’t scripted—it’s sincere caring. They go above and beyond to meet the customer’s needs. If you come in looking for a lawn mower and we don’t have one, somebody will probably take your name and call you the minute one comes in.”
It’s all about the people
Who shops at the stores? Families wanting to save money, the elderly, teens looking for designer items and enthusiastic bargain hunters from all walks of life flock to the five locations in Athens, Winder, Commerce, Gainesville and Marietta. Shana says, “These stores have been here for many years and people in the community know about us. Even if you’re a first-time customer, you’ll know who we are by the time you leave!”
In addition to paid employees, Atlanta Mission clients staying in nearby facilities often work at the store for a six-week assignment. This provides them a transition period to help them move back into the mainstream and teaches them to work as part of a team. “It’s a great growth opportunity,” Shana says, and it isn’t long before they learn how to interact positively with their co-workers and the customers. While some are reluctant at first, they leave with new-found confidence.
Atlanta Mission also works with other outreach programs who seek to place their clients in a transitional work environment. Shana tells a story of a young woman with no family who had lived in a shelter for over a year. Her experience working at the thrift store gave her hope and self-assurance, and she’s now able to take care of herself. She has her own apartment and has acquired her driver’s license and a car.
There are several different ways donations get to the thrift stores: people can drop things off at the stores themselves; a truck can be scheduled to pick up heavy items like furniture; and lighter items like clothing can also be dropped off at any of Atlanta Mission’s residential facilities.
These donations are picked up at least once a week from the various drop locations—more often around the holidays—and distributed in rotation to the various stores. “Then the fun begins!” says Shana, as the crews sort through the items and select which ones are suitable for sale. “We get all kinds of stuff—sometimes we’re not even sure what some of it is—but we want to present our customers with the best.” That may require a little cleanup, but even if items turn out not to be saleable, nothing is simply thrown away.
Items that are still usable but don’t make the cut are donated overseas—single shoes, for example. Rather than throwing them away, these are sent to countries like India, where each shoe is matched to the closest mate of the same size, affording someone who had no shoes a serviceable pair.
Items that are too worn to sell or broken are recycled. Shana says, “Nothing ever goes to waste.”
Spreading the good around
Atlanta Mission’s thrift stores are a win for everybody: the donors, who get rid of unwanted items and are able to take a tax deduction; clients and referrals working in the stores who are in the process of transitioning back to the working world; other charitable agencies, who receive aid in the form of donated goods; and, of course, thrift store customers.
Low prices on quality items allow people to acquire essentials, things they would not be able to afford at full retail prices. Local churches and community agencies also provide Atlanta Mission thrift store clothing vouchers, so people in need are able to get necessities at no cost.
And at the end of the day, the proceeds of the stores go back into Atlanta Mission services. “Everything we sell in these stores gives so much,” Shana says.
That’s not all, however. A unique aspect of the thrift stores is that each one serves as a ministry center in the community in which it’s located. Each store has a box where people can put in requests for special prayers, and every day at 11:00 am, the staff, clients, and customers pray together if they wish. Many come back regularly for the prayer circle even if they don’t intend to shop. It’s a supportive, loving experience, and the ministry provides a family-like atmosphere for all comers, new and old.
What goes around
Shana notes that Atlanta Mission is “run by people who have a heart for the Lord,” and she sees that in every part of her thrift store experience. She’s grown as a person in this atmosphere of God, and finds her nine years there to have been both uplifting and humbling.
“We all really care about people,” she says, “and one thing I’ve learned is that anybody can end up not having hope and being broken.”
Shana says the stores have made a significant difference in her own life, providing her with unexpected insights into herself. Her long-term goal is now to help others, and she guides herself with these questions: “How can I make a difference? How can I help people succeed?”
So far, Atlanta Mission’s Thrift Ministry and Shana seem to be doing just that.