This isn’t your average thrift store.
On a recent Saturday afternoon the Assistance Shop, the Assistance League of Santa Barbara (ALSB) thrift store, bustled with commotion and activity as more than a dozen league volunteers intermingled with families and locals. The tucked-away thrift store on Veronica Springs Road sells everything from fine art to designer clothing to books, and although it’s open a mere three days a week, the store draws in a serious crowd of shoppers and store fans.
“Our regular shoppers line up at 10 a.m. here in the morning!” laughed member and public relations chair Susan Chapman as she stood in the doorway of the store.
Yet the spacious, shopper-packed store is only one part of the work the Assistance League is doing in town. From Operation Prom Dress (which provides free dresses to local high school girls) to Hillside House (a home that ALSB runs and supports for the developmentally disabled), the league is making big waves in the community.
Chartered in 1948, the ASLB boasts 13 programs and more than 400 volunteers. Today, they’re headquartered on a sprawling 23-acre property off Modoc Road near Arroyo Burro Beach; everything from Hillside House to the Assistance Shop to administrative offices are housed in the small bungalows and buildings.
The Thrift Store is the Assistance League’s primary mode of financial intake, giving it the funds it needs to keep more than a dozen programs running. Members and locals donate all the items in the store, and everything goes through a rigorous selection and cleaning process before it’s brought out to the storefront. In the back room, dozens of ALSB ladies carefully steam shirts and dresses to crispness, while others pick through purses and bags to find special selections for their designer section, called the “Corner Shop.”
But the highlight of the year for Assistance Shop shoppers won’t come for several more weeks — the Annual Sale, in which everything in the store is massively discounted so inventory can be cleared before the store is closed on July 2 for a two-week clean out. This year, the store will reopen on July 16 with a new stock of items and a freshly cleaned storefront.
According to Chapman, members put in 400-500 hours a month in the store alone, stocking and cleaning items and working as salespeople. Beyond selling, the women have fun making the store a real shopping experience; for the recent Royal Wedding, they decked an entire table in festive English goods and memorabilia.
While Operation Prom Dress has drawn to a close this year, the summertime will see the ALSB program Fun in the Sun provide local children with swimwear, towels, and beach bags before they head off to summer camp. And in the fall, Operation School Bell will give kids in need clean, new clothes, school supplies, and health kits, helping them to start the year with high self-esteem. Two auxiliary programs — Las Aletas and AssisTeens — give other Santa Barbarans the chance to get involved as well.