Fashionable finds always in store at WINGS

As first-time homeowners, we love our quirky little house: built in the 1920s, it has an art deco style all its own. Unfortunately, I think the appliances are of the same vintage. A new fridge and stove are at the top of our list. However, this soon after the holiday season is not the best time to be making major purchases. Or so I thought. It wasn’t until I lugged another garbage bag full of outgrown baby clothes to the car that the penny dropped: what about WINGS?

OK, so who’s actually been inside? As a teenager I haunted thrift stores looking for that perfect addition to my ‘unique style’ at prices I could afford, but to be honest it’s been years since I’ve thought to seek them out ... it wasn’t until I started with SOWINS that I got another taste of what a thrift store could be.

Located at #130-564 Main St., WINGS is short for Women In Need Gaining Strength. It is, in the words of manager, Linda Blackwell, “Not your average thrift store.”

How does it work? Accepting donations from the community, WINGS supplies women leaving the transition house with the essentials they need to set up new homes and either sells or recycles the rest. All net proceeds go to support SOWINS and the work that we do. Having got its start from a modest bequest, WINGS is a highly effective fundraiser — its profits annually underwrite an entire program delivered by SOWINS.

The indefatigable Blackwell is the only employee — the store is staffed by 25-plus dedicated volunteers. Many are retired, and all work between four and 16 hours per week — the store is open from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday to Friday. Many have been drawn to the work that SOWINS does for personal reasons. All are amazingly committed. The store couldn’t exist without them and their invaluable contributions.

What kinds of donations do they accept? The gently used contents of a household — everything from appliances to used clothing, from furniture to kitchenware. Televisions, computers, Christmas decorations, kids’ toys — the list goes on and pick-up service is available. In fact, WINGS accepts about 95 per cent of the donations that come to them. All clothing is washed and dried, and professionally steamed and ironed as needed. If items are not suitable for sale, they are recycled to Third World countries — approximately 50 garbage bags per week. The least desirable is made into rags and sold to automotive and bicycle shops as reasonably priced as $4 per bag. Old cell phones and items made of ‘dead metal’ (non-ferrous material — i.e. not containing iron — such as copper, brass, stainless steel and aluminum) are happily accepted. This comprehensive list means that almost nothing ends up in the landfill — great news for all of us.

A word on donations: the community of the South Okanagan routinely shows overwhelming support. In December, the Western News ran an article soliciting donations — by the end of the week the staff couldn’t move for the mountain of stock they had received. As people move or downsize they often think of WINGS. Sometimes companies like Cotton Ginny and Guerard’s Fine Furniture donate new products. Thanks to this generosity the store continues, an unmitigated success.

Poised to celebrate its seventh anniversary on July 3, I asked Blackwell what her dreams for WINGS would include. Currently limited only by lack of space she envisions a building owned by SOWINS, combining an expanded store with training facilities for women, focusing on business opportunities such as retail management and tailoring/alteration. This spirit of social entrepreneurship is what sets WINGS apart. Using entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture to make social change, social entrepreneurs assess their success in terms of the impact they have on society. Non-profit organizations like SOWINS use these methods to subsidize their programs. We believe this proactive approach to enacting social change is increasingly important. SOWINS’ mission is to eradicate abuse toward women and children: in attaining this goal social entrepreneurship plays a vital role.

Tomorrow I’ll drop off a donation of baby clothes and purchase a beautiful, ‘gently used’ refrigerator — for a steal. Now far more aware of how valuable these donations can be, I urge you to stop by for a look around. Trust me, you never know what treasures you might find.

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