Down at the Thrift and Gift

Need a hockey stick? A purple belt? A toaster? A manual for an Apple IIc? Or a life-size picture of Joe Montana? There’s every good chance you can find it at the YSI Thrift and Gift Shop. In 1993 a dedicated, and perhaps a little crazy, group of about 150 volunteers from the YSI Guild took the plunge and opened a Thrift Shop on Alum Rock Avenue in a building that once housed Reed’s Sport Shop. With hesitancy and excitement (“What will happen after we’ve all cleaned out our garages?”) the shop was opened for its first two weeks of business in December.

The building seemed gigantic, almost twice the size of what the Guild members were looking for, but the location seemed perfect. The plan had been to open after the holidays, but in order to make enough money to cover the rent, the store was opened for two weeks in December. From the moment the doors opened the endeavor was a success. Soon every nook and cranny was filled. An upstairs room crammed almost to the ceiling with shoes rivaled Imelda’s closet. A back room was set aside for books. A vintage clothing department started to take shape and was open by appointment only to local school and community theater groups. A wall in back was set aside for fixing ailing electronic donations.  Sections for storage of decorations for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, the Fourth of July lined the halls.

And so it has been ever since. Front room volunteers serve customers and ring up sales. Back room volunteers work on Black Mountain, the name given to the heap of stuff that often arrives in black garbage bags, sorting, tagging, and sometimes even trying to identify items. There is always an abundance of food, jokes, laughter, and chatter in the back room. Day managers handle on-the-spot decisions and  “vice-presidents” in charge of ladies’ lingerie, sporting goods, books, toys, housewares, jewelry, greeting cards, and craft supplies, to name just a few, set the tone for the departments. Regular customers are greeted by name and new merchandise is always available. The ambiance is part old-fashioned general store, part community center.

Although the proceeds directly benefit the Youth Science Institute, the benefits reach much farther into the community. When teachers, some of whom are Guild members, need “gang neutral” attire for their students, the Thrift Shop donates it. When a house burns down, the Thrift Shop may provide the occupants with a gift certificate. And items that do not sell after three months are donated to Hope Rehabilitation Services. This is the ultimate in recycling.

Who are these Guild members? They are hard-working, fun-loving democratic folk, generous with their time, whose kindness to each other spills over in abundance to their customers. No one is in charge and everyone is in charge. They are people who quietly and steadily make a difference. One may well be your neighbor.

The YSI Thrift and Gift is located close to the corner of White at 3151 Alum Rock Avenue in San Jose. It is open from 10 to 4, Tuesday through Saturday. The phone number is (408) 272-1301.

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