The Assistance League of Inland North County — like every other organization these days, whether business or service provider – was forced for a time to shut down its primary source of funding: its popular thrift and consignment store at 2068 E. Valley Parkway. And if you’re an all-volunteer, non-profit agency, reopening can take a little more time, and even greater care.
But it comes as no surprise that the league employed its historic can-do attitude and will take its first step to reopening the thrift/consignment operation this coming Tuesday, July 14. The store will then continue to be open two days a week, Tuesdays and Fridays, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., for both sales and donations.
True, the store’s many fans and returning customers may have to be a bit patient, says Diana Chambers, president of the local Assistance League chapter. Only 15 people will be allowed inside at any one time, with frequent reminders of social distancing posted here and there.
The league held a three-day donation acceptance event June 24, 25 and 27 — and all donations were sequestered behind plastic sheeting for five days to ensure the die-off of any virus contamination. Since then, volunteer staff has been busily getting everything ready for purchase. The usual crew of about 20 or more volunteers is now around 10; the virus discouraging interactions outside the home.
Chambers says volunteers make sure all clothing sold is in perfect condition, enabling Escondido residents the ability to dress well without taking out a bank loan. Any items with, say, a minor defect are donated to other thrift operations and local organizations.
Besides sale of donated items, the store has two other fund-raising channels: consignment sales and online offerings via Ebay/Poshmark. Items provided for consignment must be valued at $100 or more, the league receiving half of the sale price. Items donated for online sale must be valued at least $40. That method brought in $2,000 while store operations were shut down.
The league’s thrift store operations normally produce around $25,000-plus a month, constituting around 95% of league funding. The remainder coming from donations and small grants, all monies returned to the community in a variety of ways. The league was able to donate the following during the pandemic:
- $20,000 to Interfaith Community Services to assist their food program;
- $50,000 in nursing scholarships to California State University San Marcos and Palomar College;
- $10,000 in scholarships to the local EMT (emergency medical technician) program;
- and $10,000 for household items for foster or homeless high school graduates to assist their move to independent living.
The recent lack of thrift store sales is just one effect that the virus is having on the Assistance League’s finances in 2020, Chambers says. It also will impact the league’s signature program, Operation School Bell which provides shoes and clothing to children in need to start school.
Given the many changes local schools will be required to make, Assistance League staff members will be meeting with school officials to devise ways to continue the program.
Operation School Bell is a trademark program that National Assistance League requires all chapters to implement, and Chambers says the Inland North league “will be working hard to provide nearly the same level of service to the kids in need, without a great deal of interruption.”
Besides offering Operation School Bell, local chapters – currently totaling 120 nationwide – then develop their own projects, based on the needs of their local communities. And the Inland North County chapter has developed seven additional programs to assist local children and families in need.
Ready…Set…Read! provides books and visits by children’s authors to encourage reading by elementary school students.
Operations Duffel Bag provides household items for foster or homeless graduating seniors in their move to independent living while attending college.
Scholarships are awarded to local high school graduates pursuing degrees in nursing and health related fields.
Project Seniors focuses on aiding local seniors and the homeless.
Outreach Assistance League responds to specific one-time community needs.
Hug-A-Bear provides teddy bears used to comfort children and seniors in traumatic situations.
Kids Cozy Corner provides comfort to families and children awaiting care at the Palomar Medical Center ER waiting area.
Each of these programs is headed by a chair reporting to Chambers, who is serving her second one-year term as league president.
She says her work with the league began when she had a severe illness and found Assistance League volunteerism as a special way to fill her time. Early on, she focused on improving the league’s marketing and public relations because the community’s consensus was that the league was “Escondido’s best kept secret.” The use of social media has further boosted that awareness and the league is no longer a secret, Chambers says.
The league now has more than 140 volunteers who staff the thrift/consignment operations and operate the eight service programs. As a recognition of the store’s customer service and community involvement, the Escondido Award Program named Assistance League of Inland North County the “Best of 2020 for Thrift Shops.”
Last week, as staff members worked to sort and prepare for renewed sales, the two floors of the facility were abuzz with activity. We asked the obvious question: How many hours, all volunteer, are required to get all this done?
“Too many to count,” Chambers says. The result, she adds, is “a labor of love. It doesn’t cost anything to pay it forward.”
For more about the Assistance League: www.assistanceleague.org.