Misconceptions about charity shops

Laura shares what she learned volunteering this summer!

Written by Laura Flaherty


We constantly hear about the valiant efforts of students volunteering abroad, and while that is extremely important and admirable, there’s a lot going on at home that we don’t stop to appreciate.

As a college student, I spend more time worrying about money than I do about course work, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. We’ve all had that moment before a night out where we’re driven demented because we don’t have any presentable clothes, and barely enough money for a taxi home. The solution? Charity shop.

Before this summer, I had never set foot in a charity shop. I, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, had this idea that clothes from charity shops were sub-par and more suited for older generations. I held on until Christmas and birthdays when I could badger my parents for money for new clothes. Not anymore.

I’ve been volunteering in an NCBI (National Council of the Blind, Ireland) for about three months now, and the experience has completely changed how I see the shops. Now, half the clothes I own come from the shop, for less than my lunch costs me. T-shirts, jeans, jackets, books. Everything I needed to get together for going back to college in September, all there, for less than a pair of jeans in Debenhams.

Grabbing a bargain

Not only are the clothes cheap, but also they are vetted stricter than an airport. I’ve often Okayed a shirt, only for a fellow volunteer pointing out a tiny tan mark or stains in places I wouldn’t have thought to look. Clothes make their way through a precise system. First, they usually come in bags. From there, they are sorted and hung. Then, once they pass the test, they are steamed, tagged, and priced. Clothes that are not up to standard are recycled. There’s a pretty simple code; if you wouldn’t be happy to wear it, don’t put it out for sale.

Not only are the prices cheap enough as it is, the shop in which I volunteered offer deals. For instance, they have a 4 for €10 deal, in which you could buy a dress, cardigan, shoes and handbag for €10. I don’t wear dresses and I don’t even want to think what that much would cost in the likes of River Island.

So, now that we’ve gone through what charity shops do for you, let’s talk about what you do for the charities. At NCBI, you’re providing funding for a blind person to learn Braille, or how to use a cane. In Wexford, the branch in which I volunteered, they have Lochran House, a center to help young and old people that are turning blind adapt to their new life by teaching them day-to-day things like cooking, washing-up and even social events like dancing and book clubs.

Before I began volunteering in the shop, I was a lot shyer. During my first few days, I was terrified to do anything without asking for help, and there was no way I’d go near the till. Working with NCBI this past summer has given me so much more confidence in my abilities and myself. It showed me what it was like to work in a shop environment, and I know that the friendships I built through my work will last a lifetime.

Having spent my summer volunteering in Ireland, I’ve realised that a charity shop is something with no downfalls. They stock quality brands, at a quality that won’t have anyone guessing their origin. They’re perfect on a student budget and most importantly, they give back to the community. It’s not a €100 cheque to NCBI, but it’s a contribution, and every penny is a penny put to good use in charities.

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