Fresno’s Hidden Gem: Why I’m Thankful for Neighborhood Thrift

Photo courtesy of Neighborhood Thrift.

Neighborhood Thrift, Fresno’s go-to thrift store located in the Tower District, has had a huge impact on my life.

Not only is my closet now full of nifty clothes that actually fit me, but I now have a better sense of direction in my life, some invaluable work experience and a little extra spending money. It may sound like a lot for a store, but Neighborhood Thrift brought me hope. It also serves as a powerful force for good in South Fresno.

Neighborhood Thrift is a non-profit store which provides jobs to community members who might have barriers to employment, such as a felony conviction or just having no work experience. The store offers hands-on work experience, including opportunities to gain “soft skills” such as teamwork, time management, customer service and communication. Once individuals have shown they are reliable and have a good attitude they can then get cash register experience and even their forklift certification.

This place truly takes their motto: “A store in the community, for the community,” to heart. In addition to their employment programs, Neighborhood Thrift provides vouchers for maternity clothes, clothing and furniture for low-income families, and even interview clothes for youth. Countless times I witnessed a person in need come in with no money and leave with blankets, pants or sweaters in exchange for some volunteer work.

In short, the store gives South Fresnans a place to work, to buy affordable home goods and clothes and to build community in the process.

I feel lucky to have landed a 6-month team member position at Neighborhood Thrift through a grant from the California Endowment. My time there was a roller coaster of experiences, to say the least. In retrospect, everyday was like a snowflake: beautiful, but very different from the last.

During my time there, I did everything from clearing out houses – which included moving everything from giant boulders to precious antiques – to working in a hot warehouse where I sorted thousands of pounds of miscellaneous items into six foot-tall peanut bags. I even earned my own forklift license. There was never a slow day.

I loved working at Neighborhood Thrift, and developed so many new skills as part of their training program. I learned accountability, confidence and understanding about how a warehouse runs. But maybe most important was how the job gave me a newfound desire to pursue my passions and stay on path with my higher education.

Before my work experience at Neighborhood Thrift, I mostly worked semi-skilled jobs, such as retail and fast food, and was not taking college seriously. I didn’t know where to focus my future and career, or what steps to take in order to move forward. I even gave up on college temporarily because I didn’t understand how it was going to help me in my time of financial turmoil.

In large part, my job at Neighborhood Thrift was a wake-up call because of how physically demanding it was. Hours of this back-breaking work – unloading boxes, carrying furniture, etc. – reminded me that if I don’t pursue a higher education, I could be destined to a life of physical labor, unless by chance I landed a different career.

But through Neighborhood Thrift I learned that I do not wish to leave my life to chance; I would rather work hard towards something. Now, an education feels like the most important investment I can make in myself because it can never get taken from me.

Addie Carr, Patrick Antunez and AP Armour together in front of Neighborhood Thrift. Photo by Ricardo A. Reyna.

In addition to the physical demands of my job, my coworkers, most of whom were older than me, shared so many insights from their mistakes and life choices. One time in particular, on a donation pick-up to Hume Lake with a manager and another co worker, we had the opportunity to converse about life. My manager, a not formally educated, but wise and hard-working man, shared with us his story and how his addictions held him back. He then asked me what I wanted to be and I explained to him how I was unsure and lost.

He then looked me in my eyes and, with a firm honest tone, told me that you must do what you love, love people and get an education, because these are things that can never be taken from you. His words made something click in my head: that I have been letting the negative things in my life control me when it does not have to be that way. This revelation made me feel empowered and eager to regain control of my life.

My managers helped me find my path forward and encouraged me during my time there. Addie Carr, Neighborhood Thrift’s Program Coordinator, is a funny, selfless person who shares her time and compassion with everyone she works with. Her “open door policy” meant I got great advice whenever I needed it, and she provided me with multiple resources, like connecting me with helpful people or organizations.

My other manager, AP Armour is actually the Director of Neighborhood Thrift and a hugely positive role model. Once, over bowls of pho, he explained to me how each of my coworkers had trouble finding jobs in the past, but how they now all have management roles at Neighborhood Thrift.

These two leaders are amazing examples that your past doesn’t have to hold you back if you have a good work ethic and dedication. Through stories, jokes and no-nonsense advice they both motivated me to get more serious about college and my future.

Because of the personal growth I experienced while working at Neighborhood Thrift, I have made some huge leaps forward in my life. I’m now re-enrolled in community college and expressing myself through poems and paintings once again after an uninspired year.

And I know that I am not the only one to have a life-changing experience at Neighborhood Thrift. They are so much more than a thrift store and I encourage you to support their mission to make South Fresno a stronger, more employed community through shopping or volunteering.

You can find more information about Neighborhood Thrift and the amazing work they do here or visit them at 353 East Olive Avenue. Tell them Patrick sent you.

Patrick Antunez (he/him/his) on Twitter
Patrick Antunez (he/him/his)

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