‘Phenomenal’ Culture at Work across Salvation Army Thrift Stores

When an Ajax, Ontario woman’s daughter was dying of cancer a couple of years ago, she happened to stop by a local Salvation Army Thrift Store. The hospital staff suggested she visit the store, just to get out, and noted how wonderful the store staff could be. It was at the store that she met some people who saved her life, the woman says.

In her distraught condition, knowing her daughter didn’t have long to live, the woman was deeply encouraged by the kind and joyful spirits of the people who worked at the thrift store and took a sincere interest in her story. She ended up visiting the store regularly over the coming weeks during her daughter’s hospital stay, finding deep solace in the attention and kindness that people who worked there bestowed on her.

She was surprised and delighted when, after missing a few trips to the store, she was paid a visit by the store manager at the hospital, who wanted to ensure she was okay.

When her daughter passed away one Thursday morning, the woman found herself driving to the store to find comfort. She wasn’t surprised later to find a bouquet of flowers at the funeral from the store team.

“The Salvation Army has saved many people and I want you to know it saved me too,” the woman writes in a thank you letter to the organization.

Salvation Army director of the National Recycling Operations of the Salvation Army John Kershaw shares this story as one of many showing the “phenomenal” culture that is at work across the organization’s thrift stores.

It is one that is characterized by a deep sense of mission as team members relate to the broader community. That sense of purpose is also present in how team members help steward the environment through the recycling efforts that are at the heart of the stores’ work. It’s also exists in how they run the stores as businesses.

There are about 300 Salvation Army Thrift Stores across Canada. Nearly half are run by the National Recycling Operations and the rest by the Salvation Army churches.

In the past three to five years, John and his team have invested significantly in leadership development, created a new strategy and integrated operations to form a national organization from what was a regionally divided, disperse organization. The National Recycling Operations senior leadership team of four has worked closely with Charles Holmes, whom they consider a true member of team in the fullest sense of the word, to effect these changes.

At the core of these changes has been a culture shaping effort they’ve branded Good Works@Work. The effort has focused on creating the awareness and conditions for team members to do “good work” in all they do through and on behalf of the Salvation Army.

As one part of this, there are four specific initiatives that provide an opportunity for team members, as well as others, to give back to the community. In May, for example, the stores fundraise to send children to Salvation Army summer camps. In the 2013-2014 year, they were able to bring new experiences to 332 children by raising $73,068 to send them to camp.

The Salvation Army Thrift Stores also responded jointly to a number of recent Canadian disasters. They collected $16,524.42 for High River Alberta flood relief and sent trailers of clothing to help. They also raised nearly $5,000 during the Lac Mégantic train derailment and acted as a donation depot.

The Salvation Army thrift store in High River, Alberta reopened five months after floods wreaked havoc on its interior.

The Salvation Army thrift store in High River, Alberta reopened five months after floods wreaked havoc on its interior.

But in addition to these joint initiatives, there’s significant encouragement for all team members to have this spirit and intention of “Good Works@Work” in all they say and do — as the story of the Ajax woman shows.

John also tells a story of a Hamilton man visiting a Salvation Army story on a bitterly cold night and trying on several coats before he walked out, wearing an appropriately sized coat — and without having paid for it. The team working that night, however, saw he was clearly in need and simply let him go.

The next morning the man returned to the store, dumped a pile of change out of his pockets on the store counter and told them he knew what he had done was wrong and he wanted to pay for the coat now.

“Most every other retailer in the country would have called the police, but we just said, ‘No, that person needs the coat more than we do’,” John says.

“Again, it’s all part of the culture we try to create, which is about everything from helping somebody out to their car to having a listening ear for a guest that might need to have a chat. It’s just about having that caring, compassionate culture.”

The Ajax woman certainly noticed that. “You look at people that work in stores and usually you are lucky to get a hello but in this store I got an escape from my grief,” she writes.

She goes on to note this is the kind of world she wants to live in, where strangers get concerned when you don’t come into their store, not because they’re missing the business but because they’re worried about you.

“What a blessing you have with these angels on Earth working with you,” she concludes.

“I am sure every organization and company can only hope to have such wonderful, caring staff work for them.”

— More to Come

Writer: Michelle Strutzenberger

Editor’s Note: Click here to read about Axiom News’ partnership with Charles Holmes Consulting and the intent of the stories in this series.