Thrift stores with a difference

Ask customers, volunteers and staff members what makes House of Hope’s four thrift stores so special, and you’re likely to hear, “high quality and low prices” or “cleanliness and customer service.”

That’s certainly true, but there’s another special ingredient, according to retail general manager Donna Vestal.

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Longtime volunteer Jane Michel in the Stuart thrift store.

“Our stores are special because we build relationships with our community,” she said. “We are just not sales oriented.”

The agency’s four thrift stores – Stuart, Hobe Sound, Indiantown and Jensen Beach – are essential to House of Hope’s service delivery and fund-raising.

Sales are important because the stores provide about one-third of the agency’s cash income, funding programs that include Martin County’s largest food pantry operation and one-on-one case management that helps people work toward greater self-sufficiency.

But even more impressive is the fact that 60 percent of the items received as donations are given at no charge to people in need or paid forward to other service organizations.

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Volunteer Tina Schmitt with some of the mobility aids available for free.

The thrift stores operate House of Hope’s Clothes Closet program, which provides clothing as well as housewares, furniture and appliances free of charge to Martin County residents who qualify.

The Clothes Closet offers people the chance to select outfits for work, school, interviews and daily life. Examples include a parent setting up a new home after escaping a domestic abuse situation, a patient recovering from surgery and needing a new bed or reclining chair, or a family needing new household items after a fire.

The Clothes Closet process treats people with dignity, as one recipient recently told us: “Thank you for treating me like anyone else shopping in your store. No one even suspected I was a client and not just a loyal shopper.”

Here are other ways that House of Hope’s thrift stores forge special relationships.

  • House of Hope offers mobility aids such as walkers, wheelchairs, canes and shower seats free of charge to anyone who requests them. These are provided to individuals and shared with other agencies, such as the Coalition for Independent Living Options.
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    Thrift volunteer and board member Debbie Lovequist in the Stuart thrift store book nook.

    Books are shared with school libraries and are also available for anyone in need.

  • House of Hope sends donated construction and home improvement items to Habitat for Humanity.
  • Sewing and knitting materials – including sewing machines – are shared with the KinDoo Family Center in Indiantown.
  • Donated bicycles and automobiles that need repair go to Project LIFT, where youths repair them and donate them back to House of Hope and other agencies whose clients need transportation.
  • Local community and school theaters receive clothing, vintage luggage and other items to be used for costumes and set decoration.
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A young shopper shows off House of Hope’s boutique bargains!

Other important aspects of the thrift stores are the relationships they forge in their communities. People become “regulars,” and the branches become social hubs.

House of Hope has certainly built a loyal customer base. “Thrift stores have become as trendy as any boutique store,” Vestal said. “The smart shopper checks thrift stores first.”

The thrift stores also offer people a high-quality option for low-cost shopping, another way of helping people manage their household budgets and adding to their self-sufficiency.

Shoppers, businesses and other members of the community also take advantage of the thrift stores as a way to recycle gently used items and help their neighbors in need.  All of the thrift stores accept donations, and House of Hope offers free pickup of furniture and appliances within Martin County.

Local businesses often donate used fixtures or merchandise. A recent example is Beall’s, which has been updating its fixtures at its Cove Road store.  The store has donated its old fixtures to House of Hope, improving the ways the thrift stores can display merchandise.

House of Hope has built relationships with local real estate agents, who use House of Hope to clear out houses being sold and to recommend to home buyers or renters needing furnishings.

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Volunteers and staff display teamwork in the sorting room.

Finally, House of Hope’s thrift stores provide enrichment and socialization for volunteers, ranging from people in their teens to their nineties.  Thrift store volunteers engage in activities that include working the cash register, stocking and straightening the sales floor, and accepting and sorting incoming donations.

Across the four thrift stores, about 170 volunteers are active each month, but about 100 more are needed, especially in the summer months, when seasonal “regulars” are out of town.

Volunteers help keep House of Hope’s overhead low and customer service high.

“We have built up a customer base because of the personal touch,” Vestal said. “People tell us it feels so welcoming, like they’re visiting friends.”

House of Hope locations:

  • Stuart thrift store
    2525 SE Federal Highway
  • Jensen Beach thrift store/service center
    1090 NE Jensen Beach Blvd.
  • Hobe Sound thrift store/service center
    8937 SE Bridge Road
  • Indiantown thrift store/service center
    15549 SW Warfield Blvd.

For hours and more info, visit hohmartin.org/locations or call (772) 286-4673.

For free furniture pickup, call (772) 286-4673, ext. 1019.

To volunteer, contact Lauren Mustelier, lauren@hohmartin.org, (772) 286-4673, ext. 1004.

About House of Hope

House of Hope touches the lives of about 5,000 Martin County residents per month with services that include basic needs — food, clothing, furniture, financial assistance — and long-term case management that helps people build life skills for a more self-sufficient future. The agency has service centers and thrift stores in Stuart, Hobe Sound, Indiantown and Jensen Beach.

For more information about House of Hope, visit www.hohmartin.org or call (772) 286-4673.