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Jackie Hope: Stacks and stacks of clothes off racks

Our Town Photo by Jackie Hope Pam Kolling, the manager of the Arc Aid Thrift Shop in Dickinson, stands in front of what is dubbed the “Tower of Hefty,” a collection of donated items in garbage bags stacked to the ceiling.

By Jackie Hope

Want to know where all the cool kids hang out on Wednesday evenings? They are downtown at an unpacking party. No, an unpacking party has nothing to do with six-packs, Green Bay Packs or backpacks. Well, maybe backpacks, depending on what gets unpacked. These unpackers are rummaging into the boxes, baggies and treasure troves of dozens and dozens of packrats, who have donated their excess baggage to the Arc Aid Thrift Shop.

And guess who was invited to last week’s unpacking party. Yeah baby, right there at ground zero in the biggest rummage sale imaginable. Oodles and oodles of caboodles, all packed and stacked and waiting to be explored.

It’s sorta like being in a Dan Brown novel, with mystery boxes and puzzles, and maybe even a “Clue” game. We enter a bodacious toy room: a walk-in closet filled with games and toys and jigsaw puzzles. Hey, there is a “Monsters, Inc.” Pictionary game. I want that! And look at that crate chock-a-block full of tennis balls. There are enough tennis balls for you to trade volleys with the Williams sisters and entertain a litter of Labrador retrievers at the same time. My dog wants those!

Holy cats, this place is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside! There are work tables for sorting and all sorts of tables where volunteers are working. There is a cubby of clocks, and they are all — well, almost all — running. The clocks are allowed a 24-hour grace period to cough up the correct time. If they don’t keep time, they are — wait for it — they are clocked. Look, there’s a cuckoo clock. I want that!

In addition to the downtown thrift shop, The Arc owns two apartment complexes and four intermediate care facilities for residents with challenges or special needs. And The Arc plans to build a second thrift shop, adjacent to its administration building, within the next two years.

Its mission statement, outlined on the website, states “The Arc promotes and protects the human rights of people with … disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community …”

In fulfillment of this mission, many of the residents volunteer at the thrift shop.

Pam Kolling manages the shop and, according to the website, has a gaggle of 53 volunteers who staff the shop and help manage its inventory. All the items for sale in the shop are donated. So is this a cool place to work or what? The volunteers chatter like a bunch of aunts and cousins who gather in the kitchen after Sunday dinner. The work they do is all for charity and there are Nutter Butters to eat. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Pam and the Wednesday Night Girls whip up a whirlwind tour of the facility, which includes the Wall of Coat Hangers and the Tower of Hefty. There are about a bazillion empty coat hangers on a rod that runs half the width of the building. It’s like all the rogue hangers from their closet got together and produced a baby boomlet or maybe a hanger hamlet. Does that make them bazillion-tuplets? Pam says the hangers will soon be filled with winter coats, when the volunteers begin unpacking the Wall of Hefty.

The other half of the building’s wall, the half not covered in coat hangers, is stacked, floor to ceiling, with baggies. Really big baggies; hefty ones stuffed with coats and jeans and sweaters and … hey, there is a Dickinson High warm-up jacket. I want that!

The Wednesday Night Ladies have work stations where they test, check and price items. Some volunteers are kitchen specialists, some work with clothing and others like jewelry. Jewelry! I want most of that! Oh man, it’s all fun and games until somebody test-sprays some cast-off cologne. Whoof. I do NOT want that!

Seasonal stuff is stacked in the building’s loft. Well, it is sort of a loft; but it is more like a catwalk only Spiderman would dare climb onto. Oooh, look at that cute Christmas tree up there. I want that! Gimme a ladder.

As tempting as all those unexplored boxes and bags are, there is something even cooler here. Christmas trees and Christmas ornament and Christmas dishes and Christmas tinsel — I want all that! — and lots and lots of Christmas spirit. Christmas spirit? Wait a minute, it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet. What gives?

Aha, that’s it! It is “what gives.” It is the gift of giving. It is the volunteers giving their time; it is the volunteers and residents exchanging hugs; it is the dozens of people giving their excess stuff, and hundreds of people buying that stuff, so The Arc’s programs can be funded.

Whoa, talk about a gift that keeps on giving. I want that, and I’ll bet you do, too!