Volunteers keep Kirtland's thrift shop running

Kirtland Spouses' Club volunteers pause from their work at the KSC Thrift Shop.  Proceeds from the thrift shop go to community grants and scholarships. (Courtesy photo)

Kirtland Spouses' Club volunteers pause from their work at the KSC Thrift Shop. Proceeds from the thrift shop go to community grants and scholarships. (Courtesy photo)

Recently, I spent a day at the Kirtland Spouses Club Thrift Shop talking with volunteers, shoppers and consigners.

I was there to get a better understanding of thrift shop operations. Part of my responsibility as KSC president is to support each KSC initiative, which includes the thrift shop.

Through discrete observation and inquiry, I learned that I did not truly understand the thrift shop until that day. I already knew, as most people do, that the thrift shop is a great place to find bargains and unique items, or to donate or consign your gently used items so someone else can treasure them.

I also knew the profits generated from thrift shop sales are put back into the community in the form of KSC grants and college scholarships. During the 2015-16 year, KSC donated nearly $10,000 in grants to base, local and national organizations, along with awarding $11,000 in scholarships to qualifying dependents.

What I did not fully appreciate was the deep-rooted connection volunteers and customers have with the shop.

All volunteers are spouses of active-duty or retired military members. Some have volunteered for less than two months, while others have consistently volunteered since the late 1970s or early 1980s.

A long-time volunteer gave me an honest, determined assessment: “We have seen a lot of managers and presidents make a lot of changes — some good, some bad — and the thrift shop has survived them all.”

Another stated, “I have volunteered at all three thrift shop locations on (Kirtland Air Force Base) and this is the best one.”

She also posted a 1952 base paper (then, the Atomic Flyer) article about the thrift shop in the jewelry section.

Customers and consigners are anyone with base access. Customers are a mix of bargain shoppers and treasurer hunters.

One customer said, “I am always on the lookout for crystal. I don’t need it; I just have to buy it.”

Another customer said, “I always come here during my Wednesday lunch hour, because I never know when I am going to find something I need.”

One couple said they retired in 2001 to Taos and still periodically visit the shop. Other couples come from as far away as Gallup and Las Cruces for their VA appointments, and make a day of it at the shop.

Another customer said, “We just PCSed (to KAFB). My base house is full of boxes, and I found a few items that will look great, once I finish unpacking.”

In the back, where hundreds of donated and consigned items enter the thrift shop daily, it is all business: “If you’re going to just sit there askin’ questions, we’ll put you and your ‘president’ badge to work.”

With 400 registered consigners, the logistics from intake to purchase are meticulously tracked for every $2 to $200 item sold. It takes about 580 volunteer hours monthly and more than 7,000 volunteer hours annually to run the shop.

In the end, I understood the thrift shop is its own community.

Volunteers have an inner glow of pride and dedication. Regular customers and consigners enjoy each visit, treasure hunt and warm welcome. There is also a vibrant living history in each conversation.

I invite you to participate in this community by visiting the thrift shop regularly to volunteer, consign or shop. It’s a community that enjoys making a difference.

Frank Capuano is president of the Kirtland Spouses’ Club. He shares writing duties for “Spouses Community.” For more information about the club, visit the KSC Facebook page at www.facebook.com/groups/KirtlandSpousesClub  or email Kirtlandsc@gmail.com.