The Eastside Community Aid Thrift Shop may seem like a typical thrift shop, but its local ties go back 36 years during which the nonprofit has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars back into the Eastside community.
The shop donated $150,082 back into more than 80 local organizations with a focus on human services and homelessness in 2017. The organization is entirely run by volunteers, so any money that doesn’t go to rent or operational costs is donated.
“We’re one of a kind,” said Jody Orbits, president of the ECA Thrift Shop board. “It’s like giving back to the community but in a big way. One person can’t make the impact like we do, but as a group we give huge amounts of money away and it has so many layers of goodness within it.”
Currently, the ECA Thrift Shop is looking to donate more grant funds to Eastside nonprofit organizations, particularly small groups needing a little help.
The shop’s inventory is typical among other thrift shops, including clothing, furniture, books, collectibles, jewelry and just about anything that is clean and can be resold. The shop accepts donations during its operating hours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at its Kirkland location at 12451 116th Ave. NE.
The shop gives a majority of its profits away in cash, but they also provide vouchers for those in need through local homeless shelters and domestic violence help projects, including The Sophia Way, New Bethlehem Project and Lifewire.
“I love how much money we give away, and all the vouchers,” said Susan Smith, vice president and retail coordinator for the thrift shop.
The vouchers can usually be redeemed for $25 worth of purchases or 10 different items at the thrift shop. According to Smith, it’s perfect for people who are homeless who need warm clothes or someone who’s transitioning into their first home and needs stuff to fill it.
“We really try to help a lot of people in the community who really need it,” Orbits said. “We know many people by name, they come so often. They just feel it’s a fun place to come and shop, but best of all they get some good deals.”
Additionally, the shop gives back to local students through six scholarships at Cascadia College in Bothell and Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland. Each college receives three $2,000 scholarships — two for human services students and one for an engineering student.
“We really like helping the community colleges because they aren’t always in the news and people don’t always donate to them,” Orbits said. “But these kids come out and they’re amazing at what they do.”
HOW IT STARTED
The thrift shop has been running for more than 36 years and has grown tremendously since its beginning as a garage sale run by 14 local women.
Currently, the organization is run by 45 volunteers, but this number fluctuates often and has been as high as 66.
The original women who started the community garage sale realized that they had the potential to grow their operation into something larger. According to Orbits, they found success and eventually opened the first ECA Thrift Shop location in Redmond.
The thrift shop has moved between five locations since then and is currently settled in Kirkland. Orbits said they’d love to have their own location instead of renting building after building whenever they outgrow the space or rent becomes too expensive.
“We could’ve given away that much more over the years, plus we’ve paid for a storage unit so there’s even less to give away,” Orbits said. “But nowadays it would be impossible to have (our own) place unless someone donated something.”
LOCALS MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Many of the thrift shop volunteers are retired and have the time to help operate the shop part-time throughout the week. The shop also sees many local high school students who come and volunteer for community service hours.
“It’s an easy thing for people to come in and do because you don’t need any experience and there’s always stuff to do,” Orbits said.
The shop also sees many volunteers who come in to work off court-issued community service.
Because the organization is run entirely by volunteers, Orbits worries about who will replace the administration as they retire from the organization.
“It’d be nice to continue, but it depends on the manpower,” Orbits said. “Because there’s no paid people there’s no reason for anyone to actually stay.”
For now, the thrift shop continues and thrives as they work to help hold up other nonprofits and simply provide good deals for locals.
“[2017 was] our best year ever. We’re getting more customers and more donations,” Smith said. “We are a very hands on part of the community and we’re also a place where you can come and just get help from the community.”