The Thrift Shop Chronicles. Ruth And Her New Scarf. She Needed Some Color.
My life is quite amazing to me sometimes, I know I'm on a path, but I never know quite where it goes. The Mansion, a miraculous and mystical place of love and connection, has sparked yet another chapter in my life, I call it the Thrift Shop Chronicles.
A few weeks ago, I undertook a clothing drive for the Mansion (and for the RISSE refugees and immigrants). Intuitively, it seemed that the Army Of Good and I split up the task. People all over the country are still sending new and used winter clothes to RISSE, they are especially grateful there.
I decided I needed to take on the Mansion clothes project myself, it is both more sensitive and complex. Some people at the Mansion have plenty of clothes, some are offended at the idea of charity, others desperately need clothes will be never ask, still others need clothes and don't quite know.
Ruth (above) and her husband Ken first caught my attention when they arrived at their new home at the Mansion with three Wal-Mart bags containing their possessions and little else. I started collecting shirts and bras and pants for Ruth, and sweaters for Ken, they often take short walks outside together in the cold.
I noticed one woman Red and I visited wore the same short-sleeved shirt all the time, and when I asked her about it, she was embarrassed, an aide told me later she had no other shirts. A number of residents got cold sometimes – it is very difficult for many elderly people to feel warm without roasting themselves.
As I have gotten to know the staff – I can only imagine what they thought when I first appeared – we have come to trust and know one another. When there is a need they can't fill, they will tell me about it, and if I can help, I will. I have come to know and love them and admire their incredible work.
I make sure that Red spends some time with them, and also that they get help when they need it.
I decided to get the clothes that the staff and I talked about (they needed clothes) some winter wool caps, scarves and sweaters. (Please don't send any clothes thanks, It's being taken care of.)
I am very mindful of keeping costs down now, the money has to last and stretch, and I knew we couldn't afford new clothes prices. So I started haunting Thrift Stores, with Maria's help.
I started going into the Thrift Shops, in my town, which has two excellent consignment and thrift stores, and in nearby towns, and also in Bennington, Vt., which has two or three good ones. If I need them, (so far, I don't), there are also good thrift shops in Schuylerville, N.Y., Manchester, Vt. and Saratoga Springs.
I was bowled over by the experience the first time I walked into the Mansion with a sack of caps, sweaters and scarves. I loved looking for these clothes, and especially loved handing them out and watching the amazed and delighted smiles on the faces of the residents.
I made sure to keep some clothes apart for the staff, they don't have a lot of money to spend on clothes, they work unbelievably hard, and they get cold too. I noticed that no one who does this work seems to have good winter clothes.
I had a gift for matching people up with books, and it seems I also have a gift for matching people up with the right colors and clothes. People were very happy with my caps and scarves (Ruth, above, loves her scarf). I haven't missed yet.
I also found I love Thrift Stories, and all of their musty aisles and many treasures. Although Maria introduced them to me, I now had a purpose and focus for mastering them myself. And I am becoming a Thrift Shop aficionado.
I made friends and contacts right away, and made not of the "bag days" when I could fill a bag with clothes for just $10. Sometimes the staff winked at me and stuffed some extra things in, once they knew where they were going.
It is a great kick to walk into the Mansion with Red running ahead of me, bags of good and warm clothes under each arm.
I have gotten to know the residents' clothing needs well, either they broke down and told me what they needed, or the staff would let me know if somebody needed something – a robe, undergarments. Everyone was walking around with multi-colored wool caps and bright scarves, two things you didn't see at the Mansion.
Several times,I was surprised and nearly overwhelmed when people burst into tears of gratitude, some really needed these clothes.
The staff started ribbing me, calling me a clothes horse, and demanding to know where I was getting these bargains. I refuse to tell them, it has become a standing joke with us. "I never tell my sources," I say and they insist they will find out.
This morning, I passed out three shirts, two scarves and replaced a wool cap that Alice lost.
The caps are appreciated, they keep heads and bodies warm.
Red and I visited one woman Red and I see regularly, she is especially shy and quiet, and I asked her what she needed. She said nothing, but when I got up to leave, she stood up suddenly and grabbed my arm, and blurted "I could use a pair of pants. I don't want to take them away from anyone else…" I assured her that wouldn't happen.
I understand that asking for things is very difficult for some of the residents, they have enormous pride, worked hard all of their lives and always took care of themselves. It can be inherently demeaning for older people to ask others for the very clothes they wear. I try to be as quick and detached about it as I can.
After she talked to me, I went to my favorite thrift shop in town, I have been lucky there, but they were closed. When I get a challenge like that in my head, I couldn't rest until I accomplish it, even if I had to drive to all over the state. I told Maria I would be late getting home.
As it happens, I was going to the supermarket in Bennington, and there was a new Thrift Shop there I had not yet explored. I am known in most Thrift Stores around by now.
I went there after food shopping, and there was a very nice women behind the counter. I told her I needed two pairs of pants for an elderly woman in an assisted care facility in Cambridge, and she lit up, warming to the task. She got it right away, her mother had spend her last years in an assisted care facility.
She took me to the woman's rack, picked out two pairs of 16X corduroy pants (she suggested an elastic waistband and soft material and they both seemed perfect to me). She also showed me some new and well made wool hats that just came in, they were $6 apiece.
And then, she found two billowy shirts that would be perfect for Ruth, who is slowly filling up her closet. This will stir up the Mansion staff even more, they will try harder to scope out my sources. I have to make sure and cut the tags off.
This is a new chapter for me, and the odd thing is that I am not only good at it, I love doing this, especially at Christmas. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about who needs socks or a sweater, or would love a brightly colored scarf.
In a few days, everyone at the Mansion who needs some winter clothing will have what they need, and the total cost will be less than $200 by the time I'm done.
I'm knee-deep into the world of Thrift Shops, I know their hours and staff, the days they are open, the days when new stuff comes in, and the days when there are "Bag" and other sales. I know how to scan the racks and judge quality, and then match them up with the people who need them.
I never try to haggle, the prices are low enough.
The Thrift Shop Chronicles are a sweet new chapter in my life, and this work is special to me, especially at this time of year, when the days are dark and the news is grinding.
The Kabbalah says that love is a weapon of light, and it has the power to eradicate darkness. That is the key. When we learn to love people – even people who hate us – we destroy the darkness and the hatred.
That's what I love about my Thrift Shop world, it eradicates the darkness and the hatred in me.
I am sorry to add to the chorus of fund seekers at this time of year, but if you wish to support this work, that would be great, we are doing much good. You can support the refugee winter clothing drive by sending winter clothes – snow pants, jackets, sweaters, winter boots, scarves for adults and children – directly to RISSE, 715 Morris Street, Albany, N.Y., 12208. The refugees need everything as winter approaches.
You can support my work with the refugees or the Mansion residents by sending a donation to me, Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816. You can also send a donation via Paypal, [email protected] Please mark the check for the "Mansion," or "Refugees" or both. All donations go into a separate account, monitored by a bookkeeper and a certified accountant.
We have many good things in the works.