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At Thrifty Threads, volunteers cultivate community through clothes

Thrifty Threads clothing racks in the chapel of United Parish. Photo by Chloe Jad
January 23, 2024

If you’re not looking for it, it’s easy to miss: Thrifty Threads is housed in the intermediary spaces of United Parish, sprouting up across the chapel, hall, and back room every Friday and Saturday at noon, and disappearing again at 3 p.m.

For some, the thrift store in the church at 210 Harvard Street is Brookline’s best-kept secret. For others, it’s a slice of community they look forward to every week.

“This is my garden,” said Rachel Silverman, co-coordinator of Thrifty Threads, as she motioned to the organized chaos around her. “You know, I can’t grow anything, but these are my flowers and my flower beds.”

As shoppers peruse “pre-loved” clothing, jewelry, and knickknacks across three rooms, locals drop off new donations. Volunteers sort through them so that clothes leave and arrive simultaneously. Some donations have stories—like a handwritten note letting volunteers know “this was the purse I wore on my honeymoon in 1942.”

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Thrifty Threads came about in 1993 after Betty King Lindsay and Gwen Pritchard of United Parish found that their sales of donated clothing at the church’s festivals were becoming popular. They discovered a need they could fill in Brookline.

Since then, Thrifty Threads has seen exponential growth. One room quickly became three. Volunteers have noticed an increasingly younger demographic, an ever-growing volume of donations, and most noticeably, a boost in sales.

Video: Behind the scenes at Thrifty Threads. Video by Chloe Jad

Silverman says the organization brought in around $10,000 annually when she and co-coordinator, Erin Venkatesh, took over from Lindsay roughly five years ago. As the holiday shopping season brought 2023 to a close, Venkatesh calculated a total of $99,758 in sales. Most of the revenue goes to the ministers’ emergency fund at United Parish, which is used as a financial reserve for community members in crisis.

“Whatever we have become, it is on the shoulders of what [those women] planted,” Silverman said.

Silverman, a nurse at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has devoted her Saturdays to Thrifty Threads for over ten years. She describes the 10-16 hours she spends there as the part of her week that makes the most sense.

Thrifty Threads co-coordinator Rachel Silverman. Photo by Chloe Jad

Thrifty Threads is operated by volunteers like Silverman, who display clothing, run the cashbox-counter and assist shoppers. More and more, they also find themselves re-donating clothes. As the magnitude of donations coming in stretches beyond the limited space, Thrifty Threads donates out over 60% of what it receives to charity partners. Over the last 4 months of 2023, it donated 667 bags of clothing, weighing 3.5 tons.

One partner is La Vida Scholars, a non-profit college prep program in Lynn. Sarah Elkondakly, a college access advisor at La Vida, connected with Silverman this fall after she saw that Thrifty Threads had provided professional clothing for 130 students through Mass General Brigham.

When her students were nervous about lacking professional attire for their college interviews, Elkondakly thought of Thrifty Threads and put in a request with Silverman, specifying sizes, gender, and desired items.

She was blown away by what Silverman came up with: over 40 students received at least one requested clothing item.

“[Thrifty Threads] is a space for people to come together, but it’s also a connecting puzzle piece,” Elkondakly said. “Clothing connects us all. And you don’t realize how important it is until you need it.”

Arianna Davis has volunteered at Thrifty Threads for over two years and described it as a “constant stream of happiness.” She channeled her passion for fashion and organization, curating the clothing so shoppers can go straight to the “Little Black Dress,” “Plus Size,” or “Vintage” racks.

Davis also fostered connections with Cambridge Women’s Center and Transition House, where she provided 50 kids with at least one item during their Holiday Wish Program in December.

Looking forward, the Thrifty Threads team hopes to further support its customers by providing new socks and underwear along with the pre-owned clothing they donate.

With each donation Thrifty Threads sends out, Silverman hopes the intention is clear:

“May they feel held in the clothes that we’ve provided.”

Customers and volunteers seen in a mirror at Thrifty Threads. Photo by Chloe Jad