Order under the Chaos
Sorting clothing may seem tedious, but it can actually be enjoyable, especially when done for a good cause. I discovered this when I worked with Hillcrest Thrift Shop for my service learning. The thrift shop is run by Hillcrest Transitional Housing, and this group helps homeless families become self-sufficient. Rather than simply giving the families what they need, Hillcrest teaches them how to get it. They often say that they provide people with "a handup, not a handout". The thrift shop is a source of income for Hillcrest to fund its work, and all its merchandise is donated. While working with Hillcrest, I learned how to sort, price, and restock the merchandise according to the store's system.
attended orientation at the Hillcrest Thrift Shop, I was not quite sure what to
expect. I knew that Hillcrest helped
needy people, but I thought all they did was help unemployed people find
jobs. I also was not sure what
volunteers in the shop would do other than tidying shelves. However, I wanted to learn more because it
seemed as though Hillcrest would be a good service learning partner. For example, Hillcrest is located near
I went for orientation one Saturday morning and waited in a conference room. Three other girls came for orientation as well. Then the manager at Hillcrest came and welcomed us. He told us about Hillcrest. Its mission was clearly important to him, and his sincere explanation showed me that volunteering at Hillcrest could really impact people's lives. The shop has no employees, only volunteers, so all of the profits can go towards Hillcrest's mission of teaching people how to support themselves. I was impressed that Hillcrest taught people rather than simply providing them with a finite solution.
Then manager led us on a tour of the shop. He showed us the basement first. This level is open only on certain days, and it holds overflow goods. The basement also has a sports and exercise section. The main floor is where most people volunteer because it is open Monday through Saturday, and volunteers can come in any time during the store's hours of 10 am and 6 pm. These volunteers work in separate areas, and the shop itself is divided into sections. There are rooms for shoes, accessories, books, dishes, and toys. The main room, though, is for clothing. Donations are received and sorted in the backroom. At first glance, this room may seem chaotic with men lugging boxes and bags, older women laughing beside tables, goods piled to the ceiling, and people zigzagging in and out, but I later discovered that everything in there is structured. There is even a computer to keep track of the amount of time each volunteer spends at the shop.
After the tour, the manager told us that he hoped we would return, and I did. Hillcrest's mission, flexibility, and proximity secured it as my choice for a Service Learning Partner. The next time I came in, help was needed in the clothing section, so that is where I worked. I met a volunteer who assists the manager. She brought me to the clothing area of the backroom, and one of the women there explained what I needed to do. Despite the noise and movement of volunteers passing from other sections and bringing new donations, I soon caught onto my task. It was simple enough; from an enclosed pile of donations, I had to sort the clothing into two sections. The nice, sellable clothes were put together for someone to price, and the other clothes were "blue-bagged." This means that the clothes were places inside blue plastic garbage bags which Hillcrest then donated to other charities. Hillcrest prides itself on the quality of its merchandise, so any stained, worn, smelly, or torn clothing went into the blue bags.
During my first few visits to Hillcrest, I performed the same task, and I had time to view the other volunteers at work. There was a section for toys, a corner for kids' clothing, a wall for bedding, and an area for books. Several people clustered in each part, performing their own duties according to memorized rules. Proficient at their work, they were able to chat with people throughout the entire room. I marveled at the intricate system that ruled the room; the surface disorder was actually completely organized.
Later, I was able to work in other parts of the clothing department. After clothing gets sorted, someone takes the sellable clothing and sorts it according to price. After this is done, the items must be priced. I learned that each pile of clothing has a number underneath it, and each number represents the price each piece should cost. With that knowledge, I could use a tagging gun to attach the correct price tag upon which I also wrote the size. Then I moved the clothes to the other side of the table to be hung. Hanging is the next step I learned how to do. I took the clothing and placed it on metal racks. Once the racks were filled, I could move on to the next task, outside of the backroom.
The clothes were finally ready to take out into the store. I had to place the clothing with similar items of the same size and color. However, the shop floor is quite different from the backroom. As soon as a new rack comes out, the customers swarm to it like moths to a flame. I had to be cautious not to get in their way, but I also needed to move their clothes to the proper locations without tripping over myself or anyone else.
Although I learned each step of the process for sorting, pricing and stacking clothes, the job never ended. All day long, loads of clothing piled up as donations poured in. At first, just watching the bags pour in exhausted me, but then I realized that each new load meant more funds for Hillcrest and showed a great deal of generosity.
As much as I enjoyed working with the clothes, the book department interested me, so I asked if I could work in that section. Unfortunately, there was no one working in that part who could explain the process to me. I had to wait because I could ruin the entire system if I did not know what I was doing. It took several visits before one of the women in charge of books was there at the same time as me. I approached her and requested to learn the process for the books. I expected her to give me some directions, but I was surprised by her eagerness to teach me. The book section always needs more volunteers, so she gladly explained the process to me. She showed me the store's room that holds most of the books and how the shelves were divided into different genres. Also, scattered throughout the entire thrift shop are special book displays, and videos are placed near the cash register. In the backroom, the unsorted books wait to be arranged on shelves, so it is necessary to check what books need to be restocked.
I loved sorting through the books, finding new titles and old tomes. Some books even contained tattered bookmarks, and ancient Bibles held family records. I enjoyed these small discoveries. With the books, I could spend half my time in the backroom and the other half restocking among the customers. One woman asked me to help her find children's mystery books. She was a school bus driver, and she wanted to reward one of the students she transported. I showed her where the children's chapter books were, and, together, we found two suitable mystery books. It felt good to help her in her search.
I thoroughly enjoyed working with Hillcrest. The different divisions of the shop work together to keep it running, even though each volunteer cannot come in on a set schedule. I learned that the organized processes for each division could unite to keep everything ordered. Teamwork and organization is vital for the running of Hillcrest Thrift Shop.
I also saw that even a small contribution can make a significant difference. By donating various bits and pieces, people help Hillcrest to fund its mission so that people without homes can get back on their feet and learn how to stay up. The volunteers also make an impact by offering their time. I will definitely return to Hillcrest because I know that I can help Hillcrest help people. One of the best parts about Hillcrest is hearing success stories about participants in
Hillcrest's teaching program. Many of the volunteers have met some of these people who later came to the shop to support the program that had assisted them. It is wonderful to directly see that you have helped to make a difference, so I would like to meet one of these people myself one day.
Hillcrest helps many people to improve their lives, so I am glad to support their cause. In addition, sorting through the donated items can be quite diverting. The structure behind the store's maintenance is amazing, and the teamwork of volunteers shows that people who work together can get much done. Overall, the atmosphere at Hillcrest is determined but also pleasant and welcoming. I am glad that I chose Hillcrest as my service learning partner, and I plan to return once this semester is over.