Volunteering with a thrift shop in Stuttgart

Stuttgart volunteer, Robin | Photo submitted by Diane
Stuttgart volunteer, Robin | Photo submitted by Diane

Volunteering with a thrift shop in Stuttgart

by Tamala Malerk
Stripes Europe

Volunteering can be such a fulfilling activity. Every other month, we will be highlighting a new organization or event for those who are looking to learn more about the services and resources available to them as well as for those who are looking to give back to the community.

This month we are featuring military community thrift shops. Popular among frugal families and treasure finders alike, thrift shops are a place where you can bring a couple of dollars and leave with new-found possessions, upcycling projects (or maybe just a much-needed coffee pot). I interviewed Diane, Robin and Lisa from Stuttgart Community Spouse’s Club Thrift Shop, and they shared some insights into what it was like to volunteer.

Robin, a retired teacher, has been with the thrift shop for about a year and volunteers in the shop because she “firmly believes in it” and its cause because of the “value it has in this community.” As a lover of thrift shops, she fits right in. She has a variety of duties, but it was apparent while talking with her that interacting with and helping the customers is her favorite task. She stated how so many people come into the shop and just want to share “their story” and no matter what kind of problem the customer might have, Robin always seems to have “the right answer.” Robin isn’t only doling out the life lessons, she is receiving them as well. As someone from a non-military family, she described moving abroad as “out of my wheelhouse.” Through Robin’s interactions with the varying clientele, she has learned so much about her local community and the people within it. She called the thrift shop “her second home.” She also noted, “we sell really cool stuff by the way.”

Lisa is the thrift shop manager and is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations and managing the volunteers and employees. Lisa also emphasized the non-monetary contributions of the thrift shop. Patrons can fill out a “merchandise request form” for donated items, such as a local art teacher requesting much-needed art items for the classroom. The shop was also able to provide items to incoming Ukrainian refugees. No matter what item comes in, Lisa promises “We can find a home for everything.” She also noted that “you never know what you will find [in the shop], that’s for sure.”

Diane volunteers in the shop as well as serves as the volunteer coordinator for the SCSC and began her tenure as a volunteer as a way to find “"purpose and a way to meet people.” Diane said that one of the beauties about the thrift shop is that DoD community members can shop as well, so it is a whole community resource.

Volunteering with the thrift shops allows people to not only give back to their local community but also provides them with a new and stronger skill set and purpose. Moving overseas can mean a loss of a job and volunteering with the shop helps fill resume gaps. According to Lisa, the shop is a “safe space” for volunteers to “come out of their shells” and allows for volunteers to do what “they like to do,” be it greeting people, organizing the library of books for sale, checking IDs in line to expedite the check-out process or get items on the shelves.

The thrift shop is a vital component to the community of the post. Proceeds from the shop allowed for $206,780.95 in total contributions to the community between June 2021 and May 2022. Over $88,000 went towards scholarships and over $30,000 went towards Stuttgart schools to help fund events such as prom, choir and graduation. The proceeds also afford SCSC to perform random acts of kindness such as handing out $3000 worth of gift cards to the commissary before Thanksgiving, a time of year when money needs to stretch a little farther for families.

The thrift shop is constantly receiving new and used items for the community and there is no need to set an appointment to make a donation, unless it is something like a large piece of furniture, then they ask that you call first. Yet, there is not much space in the shop for off-season clothing items, so please hold on to those until the next year. However, they will take seasonal items such as winter sports gear and holiday-themed items year-round.

Whether you can be there once a month, once a week or once a day, the thrift shop is always looking for help. Anyone in grade six and above can join what all three ladies referred to as “an amazing group of volunteers.” Those in grades six and seven must volunteer with a parent/guardian. Teens in eighth through twelfth grades can volunteer without a guardian after they attend the orientation with a guardian. The shop values its volunteers and does its best to show them appreciation through several incentive programs.

Volunteers can earn “Moose Bucks” for every hour they spend volunteering with the shop to use on full-priced items in the shop as well as receive discounts on the days they volunteer. Volunteers can also be entered into drawings for prizes based on the number of hours they work. Those interested in volunteering at the USAG Stuttgart Thrift Shop can go down to the shop and talk with Lisa, visit the Spouses' Club website, https://stuttgartspousesclub.org/Volunteering or reach out to Diane at scsc.communitycoordinator@gmail.com.

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