There are many stories that propel customers through the doors of Hello Goodbuy in Brunswick: A family in need of furniture for their home; a homeless man starting a new job; a woman trying to rebuild after escaping an abusive relationship.
Kelly Hunter sees them all. The new general manager of the nonprofit resale store located off Hwy. 17 has found serving them to be an incredibly rewarding experience. It’s one reason she was eager to apply for the position once it became available.
“I’ve always been a fan,” she said. “I’ve always loved shopping here and I loved that it’s a mission of St. Mark’s Episcopal ... there’s a lot of layers to it. We give out vouchers to places like Saved By Grace or The Well and people can use those to purchase what they need.”
The thrift store also provides optimum opportunities for those who, like Hunter, enjoy doing good deeds. For one, the store allows the community to donate items that become inventory (while keeping the more garbage out of landfills). The low prices of the goods, in turn, allows for those in need to make necessary purchases. Finally, the profits from those sales go back into the community through a giveback program organized by the church. It then deposits tens of thousands of dollars into nonprofits in the community.
It’s a motivating factor for Hunter, who previously worked for Golden Isles Arts and Humanities — another local nonprofit.
“You don’t mind working really hard if it’s for a good cause,” she said. “The Episcopal diocese does a terrific job and they really take care of their employees. That’s another piece of it too. We hire people here and they’re fairly compensated with available benefits. We didn’t lay anyone off during the shutdown either.”
Hunter signed on early in the summer after the previous manager, Barbara Farias, relocated. While she was up for the challenge, the COVID-19 pandemic certainly tested her limits right out of the gate.
“My first day was in June ... and that was the day that one of the employees had just tested positive for COVID. So we had to send everyone home for two weeks,” she said.
“At that time, we still didn’t have the protocols that we do now. We were trying to figure it out. But we’re more prepared now and everyone was retested — all negative — so we reopened.”
The store started to require masks for shoppers, supplying them with disposable face coverings if needed. They have also placed hand sanitizer throughout the store and require social distancing.
“There’s a lot of hand washing here,” she said with a laugh. “We had reduced our number of hours too and were only taking donations by appointment but we’ve gone back to our regular times. Donations are taken from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday. Hopefully, we’ll go back to being open five days a week soon too.”
Navigating this a thrift store in this new normal is particularly challenging. Not only does Hunter have to ensure the retail place is kept safe and clean, she also has to make sure the donated items are properly disinfected.
“Most pieces come in and will sit for a few days as they’re processed before going onto the floor so that allows any germs that may be on them to die,” she said. “And then, of course, we clean them really well before they’re sold.”
Hunter has also taped arrows on the ground to allow for easy traffic flow and encourages shoppers to step back and give one another space.
“We’re not limiting the number of people in the store but if you look at our parking lot, it’s not very big. We rarely have more than 20 people in the store at any given time,” Hunter said.
“The only time we have issues is when people come to check out. Everyone wants to crowd the front, but they’ve been good about stepping back.”
Those purchases, of course, are critically important to their mission. The money is routed into an account operated by St. Marks, then the total is divvied up among other nonprofits that serve Glynn County. This year, Hello Goodbuy has distributed $30,800 to 18 local organizations.
“It’s almost like a bonus because we see how we can help people with needs everyday. But the giveback allows us to give grants to all of these great local organizations that are doing so much,” she said.
“It’s the best retail therapy because you know that a little splurge here — and you’re not paying full price — means that the money you’re spending is going to help veterans or kids or animals right here in Glynn County.”