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Thrifty Grandmothers is shop and charity

Vivalene Nafziger and Jean Anderson are two of the volunteers.  Photo by Jeannette Solimine

By Marijke Fakasiieiki

The Colfax Grandmothers Club, started in the 1950s, has grown into an independent thrift store run by a group of women who last year gave more than $56,000 in annual donations to the community.

The Thrifty Grandmothers have always been a charitable organization and became an official nonprofit in 2007, so monetary and merchandise donations are tax deductible.

Since 2007, they have donated $615,000 to community and county causes.

"We rely on word of mouth for donations," said Chris Thompson, recent past volunteer president. "Donations come from Colfax, Whitman County, shoppers from Spokane and more. Donated items add up to help us raise money.

"In spite of ageism, we have wonderful, talented women in their 80s and 90s working in this place. One of my favorite things about the shop is seeing old ladies move mountains and smash the heck out of ageism," she said. "We are cool, and we are old. We can't move much but we can do amazing stuff."

Chris became involved after shopping there. After retiring, she volunteered more, becoming a member, then secretary and then president for four years.

"It's a wonderful way of loving people. The store is fun, clean, neat and tidy. It's healing for customers and volunteer staff, because of how we treat people and each other," she said.

"Our landlord, a man of faith, allows us to pay less than what he might otherwise receive from the building," she added.

"Some women are women of faith, and others are merely good-hearted," Chris said. "They all share a love of people."

Members of the Grandmothers Club are voted into the club after being mentored for three months by another member as they work in the thrift store.

Training is by example, she said, noting that St. Paul said to "preach the gospel and only if necessary open your mouth."

"The example set by our members is how new members learn to be kind, merciful and respectful of our customers and donors. We give people dignity," said Chris.

Members are trained how to process items and run the shop.

"Meetings open and close with prayer. We talk about God in our work room and that can be heard by our customers. What we are doing is a calling," Chris said.

To decide how funds are allocated, Whitman County individuals and groups write the club a letter detailing their needs and requests. At the monthly meeting, the club decides which projects are granted funding. There is no formal application process.

Recently, after the Palouse Robotics Team gave a presentation, the grandmothers voted to continue their help.

"When we have requests for scholarships, we ask the students to write 500-word essays. The committee considers what the student plans to give to their community, wherever they end up, in the state or another country. We are concerned about their being community-minded," Chris said. "The club gives 10 to 15 $1,000 scholarships."

Some of their grants support local schools and libraries, provide free swim passes in Colfax and support the Youth League. They work mostly with groups in Colfax, but help groups, like the Palouse Care Network, in other areas of Whitman County.

When Malden and Pine City had disastrous fires, people came to the thrift store. If they were from there and had lost everything, they just had to say so, and the women would outfit them as best they could at no charge.

The Community Action Center in Pullman often sends people with vouchers for a set amount of money to spend on clothing or household items.

"We have a feeling for people's needs for basic survival," Chris said. "By providing them with kitchen supplies and other needs and by keeping the prices low, we help them 'shop' for what they need. We don't expect payment from folks coming from the Community Action Center. The voucher says they went through the approval process."

The Thrifty Grandmothers Thrift Shop at 118 N. Main St. takes almost anything, but mostly clothing and household items. Furniture must be small enough for two people to move. .

Donations are inspected carefully, said Chris, and only the best items are offered for sale. The rest are passed on to other thrift outlets or charities.  Sending anything to the landfill is the last resort. Clothing that has been in the shop for three weeks is sent on to low-income people in Lewiston and Spokane.

"The thrift store feeds the soul," she said. "Many of the members are widows seeking new friendships and opportunities to help the community. Women are drawn to the club for companionship and emotional support.

"We are loving. We care about each other. One of our strengths is that not only do we help the community, but also we feel helping each other is equally as important. Needs of our members are as important as the needs of our community," she said.

"We believe if we go out and love people and do what we can for people, it will make them want to be more loving," she said.

For information, call 397-2786, email or visit Colfax Thrifty Grandmothers on Facebook.

Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May 2023