Oak Harbor resident Kristiina Miller found her calling in life in a cold industrial garage on the north end of town.
It may not seem like much from the outside, but inside it is filled with clothes, housewares, furniture, books, toys, crafts, some food and a plethora of other everyday items. It’s all free to anyone who comes in.
“The blessings are unlimited,” Miller said.
Miller started the Garage of Blessings in July and its sheer popularity speaks to the need in the community. It’s a hub of activity, with some people browsing and others dropping off donations. Employees from several other agencies stop by to pick up donations.
Debra Voogd and her granddaughter were looking for clothes Monday afternoon. It was their third time at the garage since moving from Las Vegas two months ago; they came with only a suitcase to their names and Voogd hasn’t been able to find work.
“We still have a long way to go, but this place has helped us a lot,” she said.
Miller — an energetic, no-nonsense woman — believes she was meant to open the unique thrift store. She quit a successful job in marketing, she said, because she “felt called to do something bigger.”
Not knowing where the road would lead her, she started knocking on doors and volunteering her services, but nobody seemed interested. Since she’s a professional organizer, she started helping people to organize their homes. She ended up helping a woman with a garage packed full of items; the woman insisted that Miller take everything away.
Miller, who lives on the Seaplane Base, filled her own garage with the stuff and then opened it to the public, letting people take what they wanted. It was a huge success. People lined up down the block to get in.
Then other people started donating items and soon Miller was out of room. So she turned to her friend Amy Jones, who had started a Facebook page called “The Heart of Giving.” Her clever idea was to connect people who have items they are willing to give away with people in need of those items.
Miller’s notion was to create a physical site for the Heart of Giving campaign, and the Garage of Blessings was born. The Heart of Giving is a registered nonprofit organization and serves as the umbrella group for the Garage of Blessings locations. Today there are four garages, in Oak Harbor, Monroe, Everett and a new one in Texas.
Miller moved the Garage of Blessings to a garage on Industrial Avenue, just off Goldie Road, in July. It quickly became so packed with donations that she expanded next door. The facility is currently 3,000 square feet.
“When I come in each morning, there’s usually a line at the door,” she said. “It’s so much fun. It’s fun to give.”
Miller and her team of volunteers concentrate on keeping everything organized and clean. The operation is completely sustained by donations. Nobody is getting paid, but the group has to pay rent.
Miller placed a couple of boxes in the front for monetary donations, but she doesn’t expect much. She understands most people who come to the garage don’t have money to spare, which is why the group hosts a lot of fundraisers throughout the year. They will be at Walmart soon to wrap gifts.
This year’s Holiday Magic on Pioneer Way event was a fundraiser for Garage of Blessings. Oak Harbor resident Brian Jones, the organizer of the event, chose the organization as this year’s recipient.
The donation will definitely help the community. Miller estimates that about a thousand people a month visit the garage in search of help. In addition, the group helps out many other charitable organizations in the community.
The Garage of Blessings is working with the Helping Hands, a group from the Grace Community Church, to give out toiletry supplies, which she said are some of the most sought-after items. The group has a toiletry trailer which will be at the garage every Wednesday, beginning Jan. 16.
Carl Williams of Compass Health, an agency that provides mental health services, said the Garage of Blessings was instrumental in furnishing three two-bedroom apartments in the Oak Harbor areas for the “hardest-to-service population,” which are people just getting out of prison, jail or in-patient treatment facilities. Williams estimated the donations at $7,000.
“We’re looking at expanding and Kristiina is going to help us out,” he said.
Miller also collects coats for a group that distributes them to the homeless and donates extra clothes to a couple of charitable donations.
She’s been saving new toys, which she will give to the Holiday House and the Soroptimists for distribution to needy families.
While it’s a lot of work, Miller said she feels privileged every day that she comes to the garage and hopes to keep expanding the organization.
“When I get up in the morning, I get to do exactly what I was called to do, what I was meant to do,” she said. “It’s a great feeling.”