Two and a half years ago, I took a job with Friends in Action (FIA), a non-profit organization whose mission is to enhance the lives of people with developmental disabilities by creating inclusive social and recreational opportunities. My job was to help Friends in Action staff manage their burgeoning partnership with the Echo Thrift Shop.
The Echo Thrift Shop, an adorable thrift store in downtown Durham, was opened in 2011 by the Community Church of Durham. While the store is still run Wednesdays through Saturdays by volunteers from the church and the greater community, on Mondays and Tuesdays, the store is run by 50-60 Friends in Action participants and students from the University of New Hampshire.
The environmental impacts of the modern fashion industry (and my very limited clothing budget) fueled my enthusiasm for thrifting years ago, but working in the Echo Thrift Shop turned out to be more rewarding than I imagined.
Two weeks ago, I traveled with some of our wonderful volunteers to the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord to accept a Spirit of NH Volunteer Service Award from Volunteer NH. This group of participants, who has created a warm and inviting community inside this small shop, could not be more deserving of this award. Every week, I witness friendships grow between University students and Friends in Action participants, and their hard work allows the Echo Thrift Shop to flourish and give back to the greater community.
Half of the profits generated by Echo benefit Friends in Action, but FIA isn’t the only organization benefiting. Echo routinely donates towels to Crossroads House, blankets and recycled dog toys and homemade dog treats to the NHSPCA and the Cocheco Valley Humane Society, gently-used and new bras to Free the Girls, and warm jackets and other unsold items to the Dover Friendly Soup Kitchen. The shop also collects donations for the Cornucopia Food Pantry, and children’s clothing, while not sold in the store, is given, for free, to anyone who needs it. At the end of every year, the volunteers from the Community Church and the greater community, distribute a portion of the proceeds to charities, such as End 68 Hours of Hunger, the My Friend’s Place, and Arts in Reach. The truth is that every dollar you spend at Echo and every donation you make echoes through the community.
The community that Friends in Action has fostered in the store benefits students at the University, too. Students gather at Echo, a hub of learning and fun, to gain valuable experience. Students come to us from Education, Occupational Therapy, Recreation Management and Policy, and Alpha Phi Omega. Side-by-side, our volunteers work together to sort donations and help customers, while building a bond and sharing a laugh. Of course, Echo is also a resource for clothing and small household items that college students need! The shop, which is a short walk from campus (in the basement of the big, white church on the hill), has a selection of high-quality professional clothes at low prices. When I started at Echo, I was wrapping up my undergraduate degree and starting my Master’s degree, and I was in desperate need of a professional wardrobe.