Canberra has long coveted the humble ‘op shop’. Those run by St Vincent de Paul Society are among the most popular for local perusing, but did you know they’ve been around for almost 60 years?
Affectionately known as ‘Vinnies’, the society opened Canberra’s first shopfront in 1964 – a ‘Welfare Store’ in Narrabundah. Since then, the Vinnies Canberra/Goulburn team has grown to operate 27 stores across the regions and their surrounds, helping to support more than 40,000 people in need each year.
As many residents refresh their house, wardrobe or garage this spring, Vinnies is calling out for donations of quality secondhand goods.
Vinnies Mitchell warehouse and distribution manager, Gary Crowder says it’s the perfect time of year to give back in a practical yet rewarding way.
“Donating just to get things off your hands is boring,” he says.
“Thoughtful giving, knowing that your gift is going to good use when you don’t have space in your home for it but don’t want to throw it away, is far more exciting.
“I recently enjoyed reconnecting with my wardrobe by reducing the amount of clothes I don’t wear, passing them on to someone who will give them new life.”
Vinnies’ shops are an important resource for the community, but they also foster a culture of inclusivity, acceptance and respect. In line with these values, it’s important donated goods are clean and in good working order.
“A good measurement of quality is whether you’d be happy to give or lend the item to a friend. If the answer is yes, it’s a great donation for us,” Gary says.
“If you aren’t sure if you want to part with something, think about when you wore or used it last, the level of connection you have to it, and whether it fits into your home or your lifestyle.
“When you donate your goods to Vinnies, you give items a chance at a second life away from landfill, and provide an opportunity for other people to purchase items they may not have been able to find or afford in the mainstream shopping scene.”
Something the public may not realise, Gary says, is it’s not just about physical aid. Funds generated by local stores help Vinnies run important community programs, and provide financial assistance for emergency and disaster relief.
“Shopping, grocery and fuel vouchers sometimes go a lot further in supporting a disadvantaged person than physical items.
“This is especially important in times of crisis like 2019’s Black Summer bushfires. When your home, business or livelihood is lost and you are trying to pick up the pieces, you may not have the time, energy or resources to sort through donated goods and find the items you need.
“In these cases, financial aid is more efficient and allows those in need to focus on more important things.”
Shop manager at Vinnies Queanbeyan, Jo Schrimer, says the society’s spring campaign highlights homewares, but all quality donations are greatly appreciated.
“At the moment we are particularly excited to receive household decorations and display items, collectables, bric-a-brac, and other homewares, but if it’s in good condition we are always grateful,” she says.
“Our Queanbeyan team is always looking for unique and vintage pieces. We absolutely love special finds that you wouldn’t spot anywhere else – something that will bring its new owner true joy, pride, and maybe ignite a long-lost passion or memory.
“Pop culture, collectables and high-end fashion pieces are always in high demand. Retro styles, handbags, jewellery and shoes are also well received and make great gifts, and we can never get enough good quality men’s clothing!”
Many heart-warming stories find their beginnings in op-shops. They’re some of the highlights of Jo’s work with St Vincent de Paul.
“One of my favourite stories comes from the day a heavily pregnant customer came into our store looking for maternity wear,” she says.
“I suggested a versatile dress I thought would suit her needs, and she loved it. She returned some time later to tell me she still wore the dress often, and I was able to meet her precious new addition.
“It just goes to show that something as simple as dropping a bag of clothes to Vinnies really can change someone’s life for the better.”
To find out more about Vinnies’ work in Canberra and its surrounding regions, visit St Vincent de Paul Society.