Hours before the Youth and Family Link Thrift Shop opened Thursday, it bustled with activity as about eight volunteers sorted clothing and other items, set out new merchandise and updated window displays.
The small store at 1212 Commerce Avenue has been around for nearly 60 years raising money for the community organization that provides a variety of resources and programs for youth and families.
“I think it’s a valuable relationship to Link and another way to have community connection,” said Corie Dow-Kramer, Link executive director. The store has “kept Link embedded in the community since the ‘60s. I don’t know what Link would look like without them. They’ve been a part of it every step of the way.”
Volunteer guilds opened the store, formerly named the Toutle Ranch Thrift Shop, in 1963 to support the Toutle River Ranch, a group home for troubled boys. The group home shut down in 1997 and the agency moved to provide other services for youth, eventually changing its name to Youth and Family Link.
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About 50 volunteers from the guilds that supported the ranch and now Link run the store, taking shifts organizing and cleaning donations, putting out merchandise and working the front counter.
The shop is possibly the county’s longest-standing thrift store benefitting a nonprofit, and most likely the only one run solely by volunteers, Dow-Kramer said. It is an independent nonprofit with its own board and mission to support Link.
Two guild members serve on the Link board, strengthening the connection with volunteers and keeping them updated on the organization’s programs, Dow-Kramer said.
Jeanette Hourigan, store co-manager and board member, has been volunteering at the store for about 15 years. She said volunteering is fun and helped after her husband died about eight years ago.
“It gives people a place to feel needed, productive, and that they are doing something for betterment of community,” Hourigan said. “And we get a little out of it too. It’s a really good place. I can’t say enough about people who volunteer there and help in the background.”
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Hourigan said the group’s aging volunteer corps is concerning but so far hasn’t been a problem.
“We’ve been able to pull people in,” she said. “Once you get started, if you’re the right kind of person you never leave.”
Despite its low prices — averaging around $4 per item — the store brings in a substantial amount of money for Link, Hourigan said. The store donated about $65,000 to Link annually for the the last couple years apart from 2020.
Dow-Kramer said she was surprised at first how much the store brought in, and is grateful for the “flexible dollars.”
“Having that funding is the reason Link can see a need and respond,” she said.
Along with the financial contribution, the store and its volunteers support Link in other ways, Dow-Kramer said. For example, clients who need clothes for a job interview can shop there for free, she said. Before the pandemic, the store would give families board games for the holidays and bring treats to activities.
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Hourigan said the store can pass along so much of its profits to Link because it doesn’t have many overhead costs, such as wages or credit card processing fees, and is open limited hours.
The store has a lot of community support and name recognition under its new and old names, Hourigan said.
“They’re a big part of what gives Link programs a more personal touch,” Dow-Kramer said. “And because they really know about Link, when they talk to their friends and families it makes a difference because they have that connection. They’re not separate from Link but a part of what goes on here.”