Soroptimist Thrift Shop offers treasures galore

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer November 28, 2012 01:49 pm

Carolyn Gilbert and Tasha Shaver help sort the thousands of items that come through the Wallowa County Soroptimist Club’s thrift shop each year. KATY NESBITT - The Observer
Carolyn Gilbert and Tasha Shaver help sort the thousands of items that come through the Wallowa County Soroptimist Club’s thrift shop each year. KATY NESBITT - The Observer

Every Monday and Tuesday morning a line forms down the street in front of Enterprise’s IOOF Hall. Eager shoppers await the opening 9 a.m. bell to hunt for treasure at the Soroptimist Thrift Shop.

Two large rooms, full of merchandise, are organized into categories from kitchen ware to clothes to home décor, sheets, electronics and music. If you are willing to spend the time, you can outfit an entire home. Most items are $.25, while some can be as much as $2.

Barb, a regular shopper, said she sends clothes to her grandchildren in Wyoming, Texas and California. The price of a garment off a conventional store’s clearance rack is the equivalent of what she pays in postage, about $8.

Barb said she’s furnished several apartments as well. “This is a wonderful place.”

Her daughter, Rebecca, said, “I don’t know what this county would do without it.”

The thrift shop started in the backroom of Harold’s Dress Shop on Main Street in Enterprise owned by Soroptimist member Wilma Haller. It later moved to the EM&M Building and eventually to the basement of the IOOF Hall.

For locals, Soroptimist has become synonymous with thrift shop, yet the members say this is not a ubiquitous project for the international organization; rather, this is what the Wallowa County chapter has hit on that brings in more than $40,000 a year. That’s a lot of quarters.

For 20 to 40 percent of the shop’s customers, those quarters mean a lot. “We see people put stuff back because they don’t have enough money,” said volunteer Ann Browder.

Soroptimist member Carolyn Gilbert said, “Some of our customers say they wouldn’t have school clothes for their kids without the shop.”

One regular shopper said when she moved to Wallowa County she had nothing but a suitcase.

“This place has been a godsend,” she said.

Another shopper said she had nothing when she was recently displaced and found everything she needed to decorate her home, including wall hangings.

The volunteers say they get to know people’s stories. A few of their customers live with family members and are technically homeless. Coordinating with organizations like Community Connection and Safe Harbors the shop helps people get back on their feet with items from socks to bunk beds.

“We will get a call that someone just came to town and their kids need boots,” said Gilbert.

“Sometimes when people are displaced they come with nothing and have to leave everything behind.”

Hanging out in the sorting room, which, at times, is too choked to accept a thin wafer mint throw pillow, I wondered aloud how many tons of clothes, toys and housewares are processed there in a year.

One volunteer said, “I don’t know, but I hung up 200 items in two hours and then I quit counting.”

Some of the proceeds of these thousands of items pay for gift certificates given to families through Building Healthy Families and Head Start. When a house burns down, the club donates gift certificates to help set up a new household.

The shop donates ice skates to the Wallowa Valley Community Ice Rink and collects pencils, crayons and art supplies for the schools. By request, they collect specific items like backpacks or coats for students. With the upcoming holiday school concert series, the ladies in the sorting room are setting aside white shirts and
black pants for budding musicians.

Each year the club grants thousands of dollars in awards to outstanding volunteers and scholarships for head of household mothers returning to school and for women pursuing post-
graduate work.

Another big ticket item the club picks up are mammograms for uninsured women referred by local clinics and the hospital.

All of these projects are supported by a shop that sells $.25 items two days a week and is run by a team of volunteers — a team that spends a lot of time together and with their customers. They create an atmosphere that attracts regular shoppers and people who come to just visit. 

“These ladies work awfully hard. We all appreciate it,” said Barb.

Rebecca agreed, “The workers are fantastic.”