When you visit the Garage of Blessings, it looks like almost any other thrift store at first. You’ll see clothing, toys, and household goods on the shelf.
What you won’t find is a price tag on most of the items. Everything at the back of the thrift store is offered to the community for free.
Kristiina Miller founded the Garage of Blessings in 2012. Since then, she has had to find more than one new location as donations grew and needed more space.
Miller Says That Operating the Garage of Blessings Was a Calling
Miller felt like she was called to make an impact on her community. That led her and her family to take items donated by others, set them up in her home’s double car garage, and invite others to come to take what they needed. []
There were no strings attached to the offer. Everything was always free of charge.
It only took four months of giving back this way to have the incoming donations exceed the capacity of her property – and that of her neighborhood. Their current facility offers 6,000 square feet of space, and it sits right next to the police department in case someone needs other services.
Before the pandemic, Garage of Blessings served 3,500 people per month and received over 700 individual donations. Everything is operated by volunteers who ensure that a visit to the thrift store is positive.
“It is a place where all are welcome,” the site says. “Donations go to those in need in a variety of ways.”
Their goal is to serve the needs of the people who come through their doors, no matter what that might be. Some people need food or other tangible items, while others seek a little extra kindness, love, or direction. []
That’s why their slogan is that they are neighbors helping neighbors, and families helping families in need.
The Blessings Boutique Helps to Fund the Free Services
Several fundraisers are held throughout the year to pay for operating expenses and other needs. One of the most popular events is their annual Easter baskets. Another is called the Blessings Boutique.
The Blessings Boutique is considered an ongoing fundraiser instead of a more traditional thrift store experience. All the proceeds go toward insurance, utilities, and rent. Since it is a 100% volunteer non-profit, none of the money goes to paying staff.
All the items found in the Blessings Boutique are donated to help the organization raise money. The prices posted are suggested donations.
After the pandemic, the Blessings Boutique has become the non-profit’s primary income source.
Additional ways that the Garage of Blessings serves their community include free school supplies each August, including free clothing and shoes for families that need them. Every October, the volunteers hang donated homecoming dresses for students to wear. There’s even a significant children’s section with crib bedding, bottles, and swings.
On the second and fourth Wednesday of each month, free toiletries are available to those who need them.
Garage of Blessings Added a Food Pantry After the Pandemic
Although Garage of Blessings has always had nonperishable food items available in their free thrift store, the way to help others evolved when the organization reopened after the pandemic in Fall 2020.
Another local organization picks up food weekly for local pantries in the area, and the Garage of Blessings was able to develop a partnership with them. This relationship allows them to supplement their regular generous food donations, expanding how much people can receive if they are in need.
Although what is available varies each week, the store puts together bags of healthy treats for the kids who stop by with their parents. When someone experiences homelessness in the community and has special needs, the setup of the Garage of Blessings allows that individual to get warm with a coat, have fresh socks, enjoy a meal, and receive other supports\. []
The food pantry program currently serves about 30 families per week.
Before the Garage of Blessings, Miller was working a job that she didn’t feel was right. Now, she’s right where she belongs.
[] https://www.thegarageofblessings.com/services; [] https://www.whidbeynewstimes.com/news/mike-rowe-of-dirty-jobs-comes-to-oak-harbor-bearing-gifts-for-garage-of-blessings/; [] https://www.q13fox.com/news/changemaker-kristiina-miller-turns-donations-into-garage-of-blessings; []https://www.southwhidbeyrecord.com/letters/letter-garage-of-blessings-helps-many-in-the-community/; [] https://komonews.com/news/erics-heroes/erics-heroes-the-woman-who-created-the-garage-of-blessings