One of my favorite ways to multi-task is to shop in thrift stores where I know my purchases are benefitting someone in need. So, the other day I visited a store where I could shop philanthropically, but I found much more than a “feel good” bargain.
The Bargain Box of Wilmington, at 4213 Princess Place Drive, is operated under the aegis of Church of the Servant, Episcopal. The thirft store does much more than fund one charity. Though half of the Bargain Box’s earnings are always given to Good Shepherd Center, one of the largest local ministries and outreaches to the area's homeless, the Bargain Box also funds many other nonprofits through a grant program and provides volunteer hours, job training and “bargain bucks” to the needy in our community.
Since its founding in 2000, the BB has given away $100,683 to area nonprofits. Good Shepherd received $52,500, and the rest was distributed to various nonprofits who applied for a Bargain Box grant. In June of this year, they also gave away $10,000 in bargain bucks (free clothing vouchers) to area social service organizations and nonprofits.
After interviewing Karyn Oetting, the Outreach Ministries Coordinator of the Bargain Box, it became clear to me what makes this thrift store unique and successful isn’t their amazing track record but their appreciation of the things given to them, and an “out of the box” way of thinking. They aren’t satisfied with the norm.
One way they are different is found in their pricing. Each item is priced according to its quality rather than given a “one price fits all” value. Kathleen Vezzetti, the director of the Bargain Box, runs the non-profit under her mantra: “Donations to the store are gifts from God, and what we do with these items are our gifts to God."
Oetting explained, “Her mantra is Kathy's way of explaining our concept of "appropriate pricing." If we put everything out for a quarter, one person benefits—the buyer. But by appropriately pricing items at a slightly higher price, many people benefit when that item sells, including our non-profits like Good Shepherd. And the buyer is still getting a great deal.”
A special treasure in the Bargain Box is their “Box Office” room. This room holds unique vintage and designer clothes and is only opened upon request. Yet another example of their appreciation of the donations given. Oetting told me that they once received a Chanel suit in a black garbage bag. The suit was placed in the “Box Office” and sold for $500 to a woman who said that owning a Chanel suit was on her bucket list.
The Bargain Box has expanded their sales by placing extraordinary “Box Office” items and “One Tree Hill” clothes on eBay. Recently, a 1920’s flapper dress was purchased by a woman in Paris. Oetting was ecstatic about this purchase.
The quality of the Bargain Box is rare. Both Oetting and Vezzetti have worked to make this thrift store a high-end boutique experience for their customers. What Oetting believes also makes the Bargain Box different is its paid staff. Most thrift stores are run by local volunteers. But the BB is run by nine paid staff members.
Oetting believes the key to their success is that it is “meaningful employment.” She shares her own love for this job, working in a place “where you know you are helping others and giving back to the community.”
But there are also volunteers who help in the day to day activities. Many of these volunteers come to fulfill hours of community service. According to Oetting, the BB is one of only a few businesses that welcome community service volunteers. She smiled reminiscing of some of the volunteers in the past— college kids who had received tickets or committed other small misdemeanors. Oetting chuckled, “I love to tell them that I don’t want to see them again…unless to shop.”
Some of BB’s volunteers come through the Work First program of North Carolina. This financial assistance program mandates hours of work or volunteering in order to receive assistance. Volunteering at the Bargain Box not only helps the participants log the hours needed, but it also provides job training in a loving, safe atmosphere. Many of the volunteers are women who haven’t worked in years. Volunteering at the BB helps ease them back into the job market.
Through the years the Bargain Box has given away a lot of money, but Oetting gracefully worded the true heart of the store: “I always like to remind people that it's not really about how much money is made or given away—that’s just the cherry on top. The real ministry is the store itself, the services we provide, and people we serve everyday.”
Drop by the Bargain Box to experience its treasures and to become a part of something much bigger than yourself.
For more information on the Bargain Box grant and volunteer programs call Karyn Oetting at 910-362-0603.