The amazing shops at The Caring Place
Among the oaks on Railroad Street stands an unusual but vibrant business model. John Stock, executive director since 2009, describes it as a million-dollar enterprise, thriving on unknown suppliers and providing unknown stock, staffed by 420 unpaid “employees” who choose among thirteen weekly shifts in thirty different jobs. Through commitment and Georgetown generosity, it works quite well, growing, modernizing, and serving families in need as it has for twenty-seven years. Come along for a tour “behind the retail scene” at The Caring Place (TCP).
In the drive-through behind the building, teams accept loads of donated items every day except Sunday. The variety is staggering: clothing, books, electronics, artwork, jewelry, dishes, linens, tools, medical equipment . . . name it (or don’t), it’s probably come through TCP. Some items, like mattresses and baby equipment, cannot be accepted by law, and items that don’t meet the “quality cut” are sent to recycle centers. Inside, donations are neatly sorted in a labyrinth of shelves into twenty-eight departments and multiple categories, awaiting repair or cleaning if necessary. Volunteers attach price category barcodes to items. Once the “warehouse” work is complete, items move into the “showroom.”
The retail operation, Fabulous Finds, and its three spin-off divisions comprise sixty percent of total TCP revenues and fund all overhead costs for the organization. Ann Lind, store director, stresses that The Shops are open to everyone interested in bargains. Last year’s campus expansion allows greater efficiency, with all shops housed inside the building. Director of Community Engagement Rita Turner has created a Facebook presence for The Shops, posting daily pictures of interesting “finds.”
Outdoors & More offers sports and exercise equipment, lawn and garden tools and plants, patio furniture, and large appliances. Re-Finds showcases “cool old stuff” and takes customers down memory lane as they exclaim about vintage collectibles “just like Grandma had.” The Boutique features high-quality clothing and accessories, just waiting for a special occasion. John remembers a young woman who found a lovely wedding gown here, as well as outfits for her mother and grandmother. Generally, clothing is consistently the best seller at Fabulous Finds, but Ann loves occasional serendipitous purchases. In her case, it was two identical pairs of Red Roper children’s boots she mounted as “feet” on a western chair she had reupholstered. Holiday décor also sells well, especially after the Sweets, Treats, & Trees celebration in November.
Both John and Ann praise the dedication and range of talent among TCP’s 420 volunteers, recognizing what each person contributes to the organization’s success. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief . . . may now be sorting shoes or arranging creative merchandise displays. Some come once a week for a couple of hours; some come every day. Some never meet their department coworkers unless both come to the monthly potluck lunch. George Ury, 2011’s volunteer of the year, regularly logs forty-hour weeks. George has used his woodworking skills as needed at TCP for almost seven years, but, in 2010, his technology background came to the forefront. He oversees the retail management system for product barcodes, leads the upgrade for information management, and has implemented tracking for volunteer hours.
The Caring Place was named Best Charity Organization and Best Place to Volunteer in the 2011 BEST of Georgetown contest. Any community member who wants to come aboard will find an organization fueled by energy and vision. Fall has been a busy time of outreach, with enrollment for Coats for Kids and Holiday Meal Gift Cards.
TCP’s motto is “Doing more great things together,” and the possibilities abound. With continued community help, a good organization will get even better.
Operating hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Mon.–Sat. (client services offered Mon.-Fri.) with Thursday shopping until 7:00 p.m. Call 512-943-0711 for free pick-up for larger items. For more information, visit www.caringplacetx.org or call 512-943-0700.