Savvy Seconds’ Jones passes torch

By Jake Davies - West Carleton Online

KINBURN – Savvy Seconds has been through the wringer the last few years.

The one-of-a-kind free clothing ‘consignment store’ provides clothing to the West Carleton (and beyond) community for those who need it. Free, no questions asked. The small, completely volunteer run organization was worked to the bone following three years of natural disasters – the 2017 extreme flood, the 2018 tornado and even more extreme flooding in 2019.

Then the pandemic hit. That forced closures and huge pivots for the organization, looking to continue to help those in need while working around forced closures and pandemic related health regulations.

It’s been exhausting.

Last spring, Savvy Seconds returned to its pre-pandemic hours. But the woman behind the operation, Constance Bay’s Vera Jones, is ready for a change. For about 14 years Jones, who founded Savvy Seconds, has led the organization which runs with basically no revenue and just a handful of volunteers. She’s not ready to leave Savvy Seconds, but she is ready to hand off the major responsibility.

Enter community volunteer Dee Staigh. Staigh has lived in Constance Bay for the last 15 years, coming to the community from Arnprior. Staigh, who has volunteered time with a number of small, not-for-profit organizations in the area, has decided to take on the leadership role of the small organization and continue to build on what Jones started.

“We were going to do this sooner,” Staigh told West Carleton Online from the small Savvy Seconds boutique located at the West Carleton Community Complex (5670 Carp Rd.) Tuesday (Jan. 24). “A lot of exciting things are happening here.”

Managing to operate a small bricks and mortar boutique; hosting occasional pop-up stores in different parts of the community; collecting and curating enough gently used clothing to keep the shelves of the boutique stocked; and finding enough space to store the rest of their off-season stock, would be difficult for any organization, especially one that gives its product away for free.

Staigh says its time to fine tune the organization’s organization. Staigh took on the team leader role last November and has been executing her plan ever since.

“The first thing we did is put together a steering committee,” Staigh said. “It makes things easier when you have a team.”

The five-person committee is made up of Staigh as team leader, Jones as founder, a boutique manager/donations coordinator (Ann Martin), outreach coordinator (Jeanette Edwards) and the still unfilled position of volunteer coordinator.

While the store often found itself closed during COVID (or at least working under appointment only), there was still no shortage of work to do. Along with the aforementioned viewing appointments, “we were very busy with long term care homes, hospitals, women’s shelters,” Jones said.

“The Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre said they needed everything,” Jones said. “And we delivered everything.”

But regular hours are here again (current hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 2 to 4 p.m.) so the Savvy Seconds team is focusing on their boutique again.

“The shop has changed a lot,” Staigh said. “We really want to make it a retail shop. Our shop manager Ann has been excellent. Everything is sorted and logically ordered.”

Staigh will also keep her Wednesday shift at the shop, because she loves to meet with the shoppers.

“Some people want to come in and chat,” Staigh said. “Others want to be left alone. Some just need to vent and it’s the perfect place because it’s all confidential. You have to feel for their situation. We want to provide our clients with a cozy, friendly shopping experience.”

Staigh remembers one customer at the end of her rope. A mother of six, with no money, on the verge of tears.

“I told her about our neighbours the (West Carleton Food Access Centre),” Staigh said. “I asked her if she needed a hug. After that we had the best time trying on things and shopping.”

Staigh says the Savvy Seconds model is one other communities could copy and it doesn’t just have to be clothes (which is what Savvy Seconds provides along with shoes and bedding). It could be appliances, kitchenware, furniture, Staigh says the model is proven and needed.

“There’s a real need for a service like Savvy’s,” she said.

Along with the steering committee, Savvy Seconds has about 19 volunteers who help the organization run.

Staigh says she took the position because she needed a change but wanted to continue volunteering.

“At this stage in my retirement I was doing a lot of work with Parrot Partners in Carleton Place, and I was getting burned out,” Staigh said.

She also fostered racoons and bats. Staigh has a background in business and human resources.

“It was time for a change, and I felt there was something I could contribute,” Staigh said. “There are so many skills and so much knowledge in our group. I felt Vera’s done an absolutely amazing job. She created this. She’s getting tired and now she can do as much or as little as she wants.”

And Savvy Seconds is a fun place to volunteer.

“We call ourselves the Savvy sisterhood,” Staigh said. “Our meetings are amazing. We have fun. You have to have fun, or you burn out. You deal with people in desperate times and that could happen to anyone.”

Staigh says with more hands stirring the pot, Savvy Seconds will be able to grow in specific ways.

“I’m so excited about how we can expand it,” she said. “Not the shop, but the model, and draw on the skills of our volunteers. Some have been here since the beginning.”

With COVID hopefully behind us, Savvy Seconds is again accepting seasonal clothing donations, shoes and bedding. Savvy Seconds does accept underwear and socks, but they must be new – health regulations prevent the dissemination of used underwear and socks, and who would want them anyway?

The new leadership team has been able to secure offsite storage thanks to Dunrobin business Runamok Amusements which has donated climate-controlled storage space for Savvy Seconds.

“We can hold on to our overstock now,” Jones said.

Jones says Staigh has brought a much-needed breath of fresh air to Savvy Seconds.

“Since Dee has taken this on, there’s been so much change,” she said. “The energy has improved, and she’s created more excitement. It’s been exciting to watch. We have more people doing more. Dee has opened it up. We have to have the nicest group of women volunteering here I’ve ever encountered. They’re smart, focused, energetic and fun.”

Read our original profile on Savvy Seconds and Vera Jones from 2019 here.

For more information, or to connect with Savvy Seconds-West Carleton, visit their Facebook page here.

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