Story and photo by Stephen Baack, USAG Ansbach Public Affairs
ANSBACH, Germany (May 4, 2017) — The Ansbach Spouses and Civilians Club is wrapping up work on a big project: consolidating six of its Thrift Shop facilities into one new place on the southeast corner of Katterbach Kaserne.
Although the ASCC volunteers are settling into their new home, they are as busy as ever with their ongoing Thrift Shop duties: sifting and sorting through newly arrived donated goods, cleaning and arranging sale items, tracking consignments, and setting up merchandise on shelves and in the windows. It’s a job that is sometimes thankless, but every bit of their work is part of a greater goal of improving the Best Hometown in Europe.
Although thrift shops are a common part of most military communities, not every community member has stepped foot inside a military thrift shop or knows how they work.
Thrift shops, which can be found in all branches of the military, provide community members several ways to give back to their communities.
The quickest and most direct way to give back is by donating items to the Thrift Shop, which sells those items to community members. The model works particularly well for outgoing community members who may have a surplus of items they want to part with before moving, as well as for incoming community members who may be in need of similar items.
Funds from these sales go back to the community at the club’s discretion.
Last year, the ASCC gave back more than $60,000 to the Ansbach community in the form of scholarships, welfare grants and charitable donations, according to Irene Sherman, ASCC president.
“In the past we have given away more, but we’ve seen a change in the size of Katterbach, so that’s affected us,” said Sherman. “But we still make money, and we’re still able to give money back to the community. With our grants, we do scholarships for spouses, high school graduating kids, and kids who are continuing education — dependents who are still in college — as long as the service member or civilian is posted here.”
The ASCC has had to balance several factors throughout the last few years: the changing direction and scope of the 12th Combat Aviation Brigade mission, a shifting population of permanent Soldiers and families, the addition of rotational Soldiers, the Thrift Shop’s physical consolidation, and the club’s continuing goal of contributing to the community.
“We’ve been trying to be very frugal coming through this transition,” said Alexa Mattil, ASCC Thrift Shop liaison and former ASCC president. “Like any other organization in this community, there has been a lot of uncertainty, so we’ve really tried to operate on a shoestring so that we could continue to support the various clubs and organizations that turn to us for financial support.
“Now things are getting a little more normal,” Mattil added.
Another way the Thrift Shop lets community members give back is through volunteer opportunities. On a typical day, the ASCC Thrift Shop operates with six volunteers and one employee. In a perfect world, each incoming item would arrive in immaculate condition, free of defects, pre-sorted and perfectly priced, but the real world comes with some dirt, mismatched sizes, the occasional frayed wire and subjective sales values.
Accepting and sorting through incoming items takes work, but Sherman said the Thrift Shop is always looking for new volunteers to join the team. In fact, ASCC is offering 12 hours of child care per month through Child and Youth Services for volunteers.
“It’s a great way for someone to get out of the house and help us and meet new people,” said Sherman.
TIPS FOR DONATING
The new Thrift Shop facility gives ASCC volunteers extra space to sort through donated clothing, electronics, kitchenware, sporting goods, books, games, and the classic category of miscellaneous. This is where volunteers test electronics, and, if needed, give items a small fix, a quick mend or a light cleaning.
But not everything ends up on the sales floor. Some things are too dirty, deteriorated or damaged to place a price on, but they are still handled with care.
“We get a lot of things that we can’t sell, like appliances that don’t work,” said Mattil. “We test them — they don’t work and we’ll ultimately take them over to the Recycling Center. At least we’re getting out the good things that we can use instead of just dumping them [over there].”
Mattil said the Thrift Shop works closely with the Environmental Management Division and its Recycling Centers to ensure they properly dispose of anything they cannot sell. Other items, such as blankets or worn clothing, they may set aside for the Deutsches Rotes Kreuz (German Red Cross) to be used as bedding for pets.
Sherman and Mattil ask that community members, before donating anything, ensure the item is clean, free of dirt and grease, and that it still works. For example, make sure that old clock-radio can still play tunes; that Thermos doesn’t have a leak; and that calculator still has a working display. Moreover, if it’s multiple donated items, Sherman and Mattil recommend using a little extra care to organize the items neatly instead of simply tossing them in a bag haphazardly.
The bottom line, Sherman said, is that volunteers at the Thrift Shop go through everything by hand and take care in ensuring each item ends up in the right place.
Sherman likes to remind people that the Ansbach Thrift Shop also does consignments.
“Some thrift shops are donations only — this one here is donations and consignments,” said Sherman. “So, we do sell items for customers. If you have something for sale, we’ll sell it for you. It’s a win-win situation. You’re making some money, and the Thrift Shop’s making some money.”
Mattil said one goal in moving to the southeast corner of Katterbach Kaserne was to become more central and accessible to a cross-section of community members than before.
“When we consolidated and moved in here, and I pitched the case for why this was a good location for the Thrift Shop and the spouses club is that we wanted this to be also something for the community,” said Mattil. “We’re close to housing and we’re close to the schools.”
Mattil and Sherman said they hope more organizations take them up on their offer to make use of their boardroom.
“It might be a different place to meet or more central when they have people who live in the housing area so they don’t have to drive; they can just walk over here,” said Mattil.
“Some of the FRGs have met here before,” she added. “And I think that’s been really good for them and also for us because it gets us exposure and it gets people who may not have ever been into the Thrift Shop before say, ‘Wow. I’ve never been in here. This is really great.'”
Sherman said she hopes the new location makes it easier for people to drop by, get to know their community and interact with fellow community members. From her experience, it’s already working.
“It’s allowed them to walk in here and know that we’re their neighbors,” said Sherman. “We’re not only a thrift shop. They can come in here and ask us questions — helping us make this the best hometown in Europe.”
The ASCC Thrift Shop is open Tuesdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Thursdays from noon to 6 p.m. The consignment desk opens 30 minutes after store opening and closes one hour before store closing. To learn more, call 09802-83-2534 or DSN (314) 467-2534.
To see this story as it appears on Army.mil, visit www.army.mil/article/187194.