This, really, is a rags-to-riches story.
Not in the general sense, mind you.
This story of Armstrong’s Bargain Bin second-hand and used-clothing store involves the sale of common everyday household rags to help raise money for North Okanagan health care.
On the outside, the Bargain Bin is a non-descript store in downtown Armstrong. White with blue trim, brick columns and a mural on its west side, created in 2000 by the youth of Armstrong, dedicated to multiculturalism.
It’s situated beside the Deep Creek General Store on one side, and an alley separates it from The Brown Derby Restaurant on the other.
Yet inside, there is something magical about the Bargain Bin, located at 3445 Pleasant Valley Boulevard.
It’s magical because in a place where people come to look for, well, bargains on such items as used clothing, books, furniture, pictures, the highest price tag you might find is $5 or $10.
And it’s magical because through the sale of books, which are priced at 25 cents unless they’re a new edition, then they’re $1; clothing, which is usually $1.50 to $2; other second-hand or new items and those rags, the Bargain Bin has raised and donated nearly $2 million to North Okanagan healthcare.
“We cut rags,” said Judy Ells, treasurer of the Armstrong Spallumcheen Healthcare Auxiliary, which operates The Bargain Bin. “Anything that’s 100 per cent cotton, we save and sell as rags.”
“We made $4,200 last year just from the sale of rags,” added Maureen Karran, auxiliary president. “I’m always interested to see how much we get on rags in a year. We get stuff that would probably go right to the dump.”
Every nickel taken in by the auxiliary at The Bargain Bin is returned in a donation to healthcare.
In 2013, the auxiliary contributed $50,000 to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation’s Building A Tower of Care Phase II campaign.
“The Armstrong-Spallumcheen Healthcare Auxiliary is a strong supporter of health care in the North Okanagan and has contributed significantly to the Vernon Jubilee Hospital Foundation,” said foundation president Elise Allan.
“Since their first donation in 1996, they have made ongoing and significant donations to the foundation totaling almost $775,000. They are an amazing group of dedicated volunteers who work tirelessly to improve healthcare for everyone in the North Okanagan.”
Each year, the auxiliary provides three $2,000 bursaries to graduates of Armstrong’s Pleasant Valley Secondary School and Enderby’s A.L. Fortune Secondary School.
“The stipulation is the student must be going into studies associated with the healthcare field,” said Karran.
All this from a store where you could get, say, a brand new carpet cleaner – originally priced at $90 and never taken out of the box – for $10.
“That should probably be a bit more,” blushed Ells. “It’s amazing the stuff that comes in.”
The auxiliary celebrates its 80th anniversary this year.
Founded in 1934 by volunteers for the purpose of mending sheets, the Armstrong Spallumcheen Healthcare Auxiliary has diversified when necessary over the years.
Volunteers got the idea a thrift shop would be a good way to raise funds.
“They went through hell to find the right spot,” said Ells. “You’d have a spot, somebody would come up with a better idea.”
The auxiliary has operated at its current Pleasant Valley Boulevard location since 1988, when they bought the building that housed, among other things, the general store that is now next door and a donair shop.
In 1995, through fundraising and some help from an unnamed citizen, the auxiliary paid off the mortgage to the Bargain Bin.
The Bargain Bin continues to be run solely by volunteers – and there are 67 of them, the vast majority women and all members of the auxiliary. They wear the required blue smocks with their name tags on one side, and the crest of the B.C. Association of Healthcare Auxiliaries on the other (the group is a registered society).
They are forever busy sorting clothes, stacking books and cutting rags.
“There are days I feel sorry for the girls because they don’t have time to sit down,” said Ells.
For its dedication and its hard work, the auxiliary was awarded the City of Armstrong’s Recognition of Excellence award earlier this year.
The Bargain Bin is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.