How college students can make a difference in their community by shopping at thrift stores

By Liz Anastasiadis

I’m a fashion-lover. But, one vice: I’m a broke college student. My solution to balancing my hunger for clothes and interest in shopping? Thrifting.

Thrifting is when someone goes shopping at secondhand stores and buys clothes, shoes, and other accessories for a cheap or discounted price.

I’m passionate about journalism, reading and writing. Telling stories, I’ve found, can be one of the best outlets to help others. However, I didn’t think I could bring my love for clothes into the picture until finding Volunteers of America.

Growing up in the northeast Ohio city of Warren, there was always a thrift store within walking distance; I constantly frequented the local thrift stores, looking for hidden gems for a quick buck. Whenever I go home during school breaks, I jump in the car and head over to go thrifting. It’s a pastime that has helped me establish friendships; from running between the racks listening to ‘80s music and fishing for flannels in the men's section.

I have a lot of siblings and our dad would frequently have us donate our clothes that we didn’t want or didn’t fit us anymore to the local thrift stores before we bought new ones. It was a good way for my dad to do some spring cleaning for our wardrobes, making room for new clothes. 

It’s so easy to donate to the thrift store by giving away the stuff that no longer brings you joy.

The good thing about thrifting is that sometimes, thrift stores are also non-profit organizations that donate to specific causes regarding homelessness and hunger. A thrift store that I experienced recently is a non-profit organization called Volunteers of America.

Volunteers of America is a non-profit thrift store with several Columbus locations in which the proceeds from customer purchases and donations support community programs that help homeless families, veterans and mothers struggling with addiction in surrounding areas. I feel as though thrifting at places like Volunteers of America and through volunteerism, I can help make a difference in someone’s life.

I frequently volunteer with local organizations that benefit children, such as A Noble Cause in Newark, Ohio. In this program, I spend an hour a week with a child at Par Excellence Academy and mentor them. It’s a beneficial experience on both ends— I get to leave campus for a time and still remember how I can help and connect with the community. Also, I get to spend time with kids, which always lightens up my day; kids are generally optimistic and full of life.

While I’m volunteering, it’s hard to imagine the statistics: around 19.7% of children’s families have incomes below the poverty line in Ohio as of 2018 ($24,860 for a family of four). These numbers can be overwhelming and sometimes it can be hard to measure the impact you’re making, no matter how much you try. The thing about donating and volunteering is that it’s a gradual change— it doesn’t happen overnight. Nonprofits help to combat these statistics to help those in need and sometimes, keep the light on issues that others might get tired of fighting for.

One thing that stood out to me about Volunteers of America is their impact statement: “We provide services that are designed locally to address specific community needs. Our common areas of focus include: promoting self-sufficiency for the homeless and for others overcoming personal crises. We look at the whole person and address both urgent and on-going needs, with the goal of helping people become as self-reliant as possible.”

It exemplified a mission to uplift and support the well-being of everyone, helping others to reach their full potential. This sense of contribution to building a stronger community stood out to me.

I want to make a difference in everything that I do. That can be through influencing those who surround me to participate in service by simply having them donate clothes and shop along for an adventure.

Thrifting with friends is awesome mostly because you’ll be able to mesh styles with each other and get second opinions on items. I went to a thrift store with a group of friends near my University once and someone ended up getting accidentally handcuffed to the sales rack. Let’s just say that we had to call the local police department to unattach them.

Going thrifting has opened my mind to finding a more elaborate wardrobe. Once you find that lost treasure of an item, it can be enlightening to envision yourself wearing the clothing in different ways with the clothes you already own. 

Thrifting, therefore, nurtures potential. It can inspire those to think differently about their surroundings, simply because people can enjoy finding clothes in a fun environment or spending time thinking of others.

The best thing about thrifting is that you never know what gems you will find. Whether those gems be the precious moments that you’ll never forget with friends, that one pair of jeans you love, or most importantly, helping those around you that you’ve never even met, you can make an impact. It’s as simple as giving away old clothes.

To donate your clothes to Volunteers of America, you can drop them off at any of their thrift stores around Columbus or Cleveland, give them a call at 1-800-873-4505, email or schedule a free donation pickup.


Liz Anastasiadis is a student at Denison University studying narrative journalism and creative writing. She loves thrift shopping.