After The Garage of Blessings opened its doors at a new, more spacious location Monday, Kristiina Miller counted 200 customers in the first hour and estimates that 500 came by the end of the day.
The customers to this unique Oak Harbor thrift store, where everything is free, keep coming, as do the donations from the community.
Miller, who founded the store in 2012, was running around Wednesday, helping customers and directing a large team of volunteers, who sort through items and get them on the shelves as quickly as they can, among other tasks.
Four volunteers had trouble keeping up with a mountain of bags that piled up in a room in front where donations are accepted.
“We can’t even walk in here,” volunteer Alexandra Sizemore said, only half-joking.
The Oak Harbor community’s generosity is heartwarming to Miller. The number of people who come into her store searching for clothes, furniture, toys or household items illustrates how challenging it is for many people in Oak Harbor and surrounding communities to afford such things.
Her store also teams up with Helping Hands, a group from Grace Community Church, every second and fourth Wednesday of the month to provide free toiletry items for visitors.
“There’s a need,” Miller said.
Miller started The Garage of Blessings out of her own home garage on the Sea Plane base in 2012 and moved it into a 1,500-square foot industrial garage four months later. The location has moved three more times into bigger spaces as need and donations both continued to grow.
Its current site, a 4,000-square foot facility at 3159 Goldie Road, Unit A, is still in the North Whidbey Island Business Park; however, it’s now out front in a more visible spot that is easier to access.
“It’s a blessing,” said longtime volunteer Shila Moffett.
The new store has new hours. It is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, 5–7 p.m. Tuesdays, noon–5 p.m. Wednesdays, 5–7 p.m. Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays (spring and summer only). The hours also reflect when donations may be received.
The donations kept coming Wednesday as vehicles backed up to the store and were met by volunteers, who helped carry the items in.
“I was originally a shopper here,” Sizemore said as she sorted through a bag of donated clothing. “I’d gotten so much cool stuff here. It was such a blessing to my family. I got so much so I wanted to give back.”
Twenty-six volunteers help Miller accomplish her mission of helping those in the community who need it the most. She spent part of her youth in the foster care system and can relate to the struggles of some in the community.
The new store features separate rooms with different items. One room is designated for the homeless and is filled with jackets, blankets, bed rolls, tarps and tents.
“You can pretty much furnish an entire house in here,” Miller said.
Miller and her volunteers get a boost by helping others any way they can.
“I love seeing the customers’ faces,” Moffett said.
Julie Curtis and Sizemore live in Oak Harbor because their husbands serve at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. They like being a part of what The Garage of Blessings represents and enjoy the camaraderie in the store.
“It’s inspiring,” Curtis said.