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Tinker shop provides deals, charity donations

The furniture section of the thrift shop carries anything not clothes related, from kids’ toys and yard tools to furniture, dishes and knick-knacks. The separate clothing area and a sales/consignment area complete the shop, open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and located on Arnold Street between the base theater and the Gerrity Fitness and Sports Center. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

The furniture section of the thrift shop carries anything not clothes related, from kids’ toys and yard tools to furniture, dishes and knick-knacks. The separate clothing area and a sales/consignment area complete the shop, open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and located on Arnold Street between the base theater and the Gerrity Fitness and Sports Center. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Tinker Thrift Shop volunteer Janie Hardin makes a holiday throw and a wooden rocker more inviting for potential shoppers in the thrift shop’s furniture area recently.  Ms. Hardin consigned items for years then became a volunteer in the shop more than four years ago. (Air Force photos by Margo Wright )

Tinker Thrift Shop volunteer Janie Hardin makes a holiday throw and a wooden rocker more inviting for potential shoppers in the thrift shop’s furniture area recently. Ms. Hardin consigned items for years then became a volunteer in the shop more than four years ago. (Air Force photos by Margo Wright )

Retired Army family Bill and Karen Philpott, of Fairland, take advantage of a visit to their Sailor son serving in the Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron THREE to pick up some bargains. Susan Foster, a 17-year volunteer, wraps the couple’s purchases at check out. The couple said they always hope their visits correspond with the days the shop is open. ( Air Force photos by Margo Wright )

Retired Army family Bill and Karen Philpott, of Fairland, take advantage of a visit to their Sailor son serving in the Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron THREE to pick up some bargains. Susan Foster, a 17-year volunteer, wraps the couple’s purchases at check out. The couple said they always hope their visits correspond with the days the shop is open. ( Air Force photos by Margo Wright )

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- A couple of dollars buys a budding golfer a club and a bag of golf balls. A boy waits impatiently to try on a pair of Spiderman shoes. And a woman carefully cradles a glass bowl in her hands like a sacred treasure.

"My mother used to have a sugar bowl just like this," says the cashier, admiringly.

Sugar bowls and Spiderman are just a few of the eclectic treasures at the Tinker Thrift Shop. Run by volunteers from the Officers' Spouses' Club, the shop offers a range of inexpensive but good-quality second-hand items, from furniture to fur coats. And all at prices even Wal-Mart couldn't beat.

"It's amazing the quality of items," says Annie Wildes, the shop manager. "People come in and find some great buys and great deals."

Established more than 30 years ago, the thrift shop raises money to support a number of local charities while also providing funds for college scholarships and special units like Tinker's Honor Guard. Last year the shop raised more than $7,500 in scholarship money alone, Ms. Wildes says.

"We try to give back to our local community," she says.

Items are brought in, inspected and cleaned if necessary before being sold on consignment. One room is filled with clothes, from baby clothing to business suits, while another holds books, bric-a-brac and the odd miniature Eiffel Tower.

"And some things we can't figure out what they are," Ms. Wildes says. "But they sell."

And small wonder. Clothes -- some of them new and never worn -- start at $2. Business suits go for $14.

"I have a seven-year-old and I'm always buying jeans for him," Ms. Wildes says.

Prices are set by the consigners with help from the thrift shop volunteers, who make sure everything is clean and in good repair. Unlike commercial consignment stores that may split the sales proceeds evenly, at the thrift shop, sellers keep 70 percent while "30 percent all goes to charity," Ms. Wildes says.

Items that don't sell are eventually given to charity.

Although only open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the shop is busy.

"We have some people that come in and buy baskets of stuff," explains Ms. Wildes. "Some people come and buy to give to other charities."

One woman, she says, buys clothes to send overseas. Members of AWACS crews on deployment also often buy clothes to donate to the local populace during overseas missions.

Many of the sellers are long-time users of the thrift shop. But tough economic times are prompting many retirees to sell some of their no-longer-needed treasures.

"A lot of retirees are downsizing and some of them are on a limited budget, so it's a good place for them to consign," Ms. Wildes says. "And many of those people bring in 20 or more items at a time."

The thrift shop is also popular with shoppers, especially those on limited budgets or young families just starting out. Recently relocated families needing an item of furniture or odd household item also often find what they are looking for on the shop's shelves.

"Coming here can help them save," says Ms. Wildes.

"We've been seeing a lot of new people coming in," says Susan Foster, the shop's cashier since 1993. "And then we have regulars who've been coming in since before I've been here." The shop is staffed entirely with volunteers like Ms. Foster.

"I do a little bit of everything," says Gloria Vara, one of 25 volunteer and an eight-year thrift shop veteran. With her children grown, Ms. Vara says she has plenty of time to help at the shop. And she loves it.

"What I like best is the camaraderie here," she says. "And our money goes to a good cause." "I do like it," agrees Ms. Foster.

"It's a fun place to be," says Ms. Wildes, who is on her second stint as shop manager. "It's a very rewarding job. It's the most fulfilling job I've had. And part of that is that I'm giving back to the community."

And they, too, find their treasures.

"I've never had a China set, in 30 years of marriage," Ms. Vara says. "And there it was, a complete set from the 1950s. And only $8."

The shop, located in Bldg. 6001 on Arnold Avenue, will be open through the week of Dec. 18 before closing for the holidays. It will reopen Jan. 5. For more information, call 734-3996.

"Come and have a look," Ms. Wildes says. "Few people walk out the door without something in their hand."