‘How Can We Help?’ With Volunteers in Short Supply, Inova’s Ladies Board Gets Creative

The pandemic has hit local nonprofits hard. And for Loudoun’s charity thrift shops, COVID presents an extra challenge: finding volunteers willing and able to work in a retail environment as infections rise. 

For the Ladies Board of Inova Loudoun Hospital, which runs the Twice Is Nice thrift shop in Leesburg, keeping money flowing to essential programs at the hospital is a priority. But it means getting creative and finding new ways to do business.

2020 has been the year of the pivot after the board had to cancel its legendary (and lucrative) rummage sale in October. Without the sale, which brought in a record-shattering $343,000 in 2019, the Ladies Board is turning to other revenue sources, including Twice Is Nice, which celebrated its 30th anniversary this year, and the Riverside Gift Shop at Inova’s Lansdowne campus. Board members are eager to start chipping away at a brand new 10-year, $1.2 million pledge to the hospital, after meeting their most recent pledge in record time.

“We’re trying to make it up in the thrift shop, and we see that happening,” said Ladies Board president Hazel Saffell.

The annual rummage sale, which takes over multiple outbuildings at Morven Park Equestrian Center for a full week in preparation for the mammoth two-day sale, brings in dozens of community volunteers in addition to Ladies Board members. And those community volunteers are pitching in to help at Twice Is Nice, which reopened in June after a three-month shutdown.

“Making the decision [to cancel the rummage sale] was really not hard. It was just not feasible with everything that’s going on. What is extremely rewarding is the number of people that volunteered at rummage who have come into the shop to say, ‘We know there’s no rummage—how can we help?’” Saffell said.

Twice Is Nice is run entirely by volunteers, Saffell said, from front end workers to behind the scenes financial and administrative support. The gift shop, run with a combination of volunteers and paid staff, has also reopened at Inova Loudoun’s new patient tower. Visitors are strictly limited during the pandemic, but the shop serves authorized visitors and the staff with snacks, baby items, floral arrangements and other gifts and necessities. The gift shop is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

During the fiscal year that ended in June, the Ladies Board made the final payment on a $1 million pledge to help complete the hospital’s new emergency room, a 10-year commitment that the board was able to meet in just six years thanks to record rummage sales and other revenue. The board also funded $70,000 in nursing scholarships, along with donations to the hospital’s Birthing Inn maternity center and a program providing lymphedema supplies for uninsured patients, with total contributions for the year amounting to more than $200,000.

Like many area businesses and nonprofits, Twice Is Nice shut its doors in March and reopened with reduced hours in June, moving from six to three days a week. For now, the thrift shop’s regular hours are Thursday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. And while the shop still sees its share of treasure hunters thrifting for fun, Saffell said the shop has always focused on meeting the needs of shoppers who need low-cost clothing and other necessities. And that segment has grown during the pandemic.

“People were lined up the day we opened,” Saffell said. “Our clientele in the shop has changed a little bit. We see more people coming in that are in need of reduced prices. We had a great clientele of people who can afford a higher end but they enjoy thrift shopping. Now it’s more of a need and not a want. … Our mission statement is to provide a community service. … It isn’t just to get the money to the hospital.”

But with many of the board’s rummage sale and thrift shop volunteers falling into the 65+ age group, some are understandably concerned about coming in to help out.

“Most of our ladies are over that magic number and they don’t feel comfortable coming into the shop,” said Ladies Board member Darby Nelson-Folk who runs Twice is Nice with co-chair Connie Graham.

And with younger volunteers working day jobs or helping children with distance learning, it can be tough to fill key slots.

“Right now, we’re just going by the numbers, and until they improve or the vaccine gets approved and more ladies feel comfortable coming back to the shop, we just have to keep our days limited. But we’re doing well and the community has been very supportive,” Nelson-Folk said.

But community volunteers, including rummage sale fans, are stepping in. Nelson-Folk says the shop is training new volunteers, including students, as many young adults find themselves taking online college classes from home. There’s a particular need for Saturday support, Nelson-Folk said, along with volunteers who are comfortable working the front end of the shop and interacting with customers.

Nelson-Folk said she’s been impressed with community support for the shop, including Loudouners who stop to make a donation and then get in some shopping.

“The thrift store craze has really stepped up. … [Supporters] say they make a donation in the back and then go around and park in the front and come in and shop,” she added with a laugh.

Nelson-Folk said the board also is getting creative with more sales and promotions, including a successful series of pre-holiday Tuesday evening pop-ups, with the shop opening for bargain hunters from 4 to 7 p.m. The evening pop-up boutiques are the brainchild of board member Alexia Orr, who runs the rummage sale’s popular The Look department featuring designer and high-end women’s clothing and the Step Up boutique department at Twice is Nice. The final Tuesday evening pop-up shop for 2020 is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 15. But Saffell said the board hopes to do more pop-up style special events in 2021.

The board is already in discussions about future rummage sales, after several years of explosive growth that has surprised even organizers. The board has booked with Morven Park for October 2021 and will make a call this summer about whether the sale will move forward. Meanwhile, Saffell and her team are using the year off to reflect on possible changes to the sale.

“It has grown exponentially,” Saffell said. “We’re looking at making it better but not necessarily bigger.”

For more information on the Ladies Board of Inova Loudoun Hospital and Riverside Gift Shop Hours, go to ladiesboard.org.

Follow the Ladies Board on Facebook at facebook.com/ladiesboard for updates on Twice is Nice sales and special events and announcements about the 2021 rummage sale.

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