Philly AIDS Thrift’s staff, volunteers and customers contribute to the growth of the community.
“If we knew, we’d tell you,” reads a strip of paper taped to a shelf inside Philly AIDS Thrift Store at 514 Bainbridge St.
Rows of similar shelves line one wall of the store, filled with knick-knacks, like boxes of miniature greeting cards, ceramic donkey and teddy bear figurines, a plastic bottle filled with bubble-blowing solution and a dried gourd from Peru shaped like a fish.
Philly AIDS Thrift is a nonprofit business that benefits the AIDS Fund, which then passes the money to 29 AIDS agencies. PAT also provides HIV/AIDS organizations with free vouchers that HIV/AIDS-diagnosed customers can exchange for free clothing or kitchen items at the store.
With the help of some friends, Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou, volunteer coordinator and co-founder of PAT, opened the store in honor of those who have either died or currently live with AIDS. Kallas-Saritsoglou said she and her colleagues felt that opening this thrift store would be a way to build a community and help people at the same time.
“I’d say probably in the very beginning, [donations consisted of] us bringing, I shouldn’t use the word crap – my husband tells me that I use the word crap too much – items,” Kallas-Saritsoglou said. “We were just bringing stuff from our apartments at that time, just trying to fill up the store, and it very quickly snowballed.”
It did not take long for donations to pour in. At PAT’s recently celebrated five-year anniversary, Kallas-Saritsoglou said the store still has not asked for a single donation. In its five years of business, the store has raised more than $200,000 for the AIDS Fund.
Kallas-Saritsoglou said she and co-founder Tom Brennan faced very few obstacles in the beginning. The initial expenses were paid off in a matter of months.
“I don’t know if we thought it was ever going to be this good or this cool at first, as quickly as it became that way,” she said.
PAT has extended far beyond its employees’ apartment-goods donation days. The store is filled with racks of clothing, shelves of books, rows of paintings, kitchen items and cases of jewelry, all mixed in with a hodgepodge of miscellaneous – some eccentric – items. The upstairs floor brims with books, $3 shoes and vintage clothing.
Although the store could have been a profitable business, Kallas-Saritsoglou wanted to hire volunteers and create a community to which people could contribute.
Because of this, the store represents not just Kallas-Saritsoglou’s and Brennan’s tastes, but the tastes of all the employees and volunteers who work there. This is evident in the store’s vast soundtrack, which ranges from Motown to classic rock.
Humorous signs and notes are scattered throughout the store – a chalkboard outside has different messages scribbled on it that read “Dolphins sleep with one eye open,” and “Samuel L. Jackson’s movies have grossed over 8.5 billion dollars worldwide.”
Kallas-Saritsoglou’s hopes of creating a community that benefits people is carried out through her friendliness and consideration for others.
“She really, genuinely wants to surround herself with people who can be her friend, and she can be their friend,” said Brooks Banker, a clothing processor at PAT.
Kallas-Saritsoglou said in addition to the store’s mission and her love of sharing remnants of the past with others, it is her interactions with the people involved – employees, volunteers and customers alike – that make her job enjoyable.
“You’re not just an employee,” assistant manager Adam Proctor said. He said Kallas-Saritsoglou’s care for those she works with goes beyond the call of duty.
Acting as a “psychiatrist,” and sometimes “mom,” in the store, Kallas-Saritsoglou also takes pride in the community’s response to the shop’s efforts.
“You just hear their love for what we do,” Kallas-Saritsoglou said. “And it just makes you really happy because you just don’t think that it’s touched so many people.”
Dana Ricci can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.