Bougie bargains and community care in Central Beaverton
The atmosphere in the shop on the corner of Southwest Fifth and Main streets in Central Beaverton is more like a house party with regulars coming and going — sometimes there to pick up a bag of clothes purchased online, sometimes to shop in person among friends.
To the uninitiated, it's hard to tell the customers from the help, because they're all customers and they all seem to help.
The friendly atmosphere is driven by Tanya Hawkins, founder and proprietor of the Gung Ho Ministries resale shop. (Don't say thrift shop. "We're a boutique with thrifty prices," Hawkins is fond of saying.)
"Tanya is the friend you always wished you had," said Susan Furnish, a Gung Ho Ministries board member who started out — as many do — volunteering at the resale shop.
Hawkins knows almost everyone who comes through the door, and she shouts out greetings while entertaining a discussion about someone's upcoming marriage, someone else's health or the twists and turns in a mutual acquaintance's life.
"When anybody comes into the shop, she knows them. And if she doesn't know them on the first visit, she certainly knows them on the second," said Furnish.
Of Hawkins, Furnish added, "She has an uncanny ability to remember people's names. She remembers their tastes. She'll set aside things and call someone to say, 'Hey, this just came into the shop and I know this is something that you want.' And it always is."
The money that Gung Ho Ministries raises at the shop provides direct assistance to veterans around the state.
Gung Ho Ministries is small and its internal bureaucracy almost nonexistent, which means that they are able to provide help quickly and with a minimum of paperwork.
"The caseworkers contact me for the veteran in need," Hawkins said. "Let's say they can't pay their rent. We will write the check directly to the landlord.
"Last year, with COVID, we actually had a record year. We actually gave $105,000 in financial assistance. That's cash. That's above our expenses — our expenses are really low."
Nichole Shepherd, veterans case manager for the Salvation Army's Veteran and Family Center in Beaverton, has gotten help from Gung Ho Ministries for the past nine years or so.
"Tanya gets back to me within 24 hours, generally," she said. "Every request I've ever made to them, they've been able to approve."
Gung Ho Ministries, Shepherd said, has "really made an impact."
"Last December, we had a household who had applied for energy assistance, and the process was taking so long due to the high demand," Shepherd recalled. "They didn't have any heat at all, with three little kiddos and a veteran in a household. (Gung Ho Ministries) was able to help them get the gas turned on so that they could have heat for the winter. They are a phenomenal organization."
Currently, the store brings in between $12,000 to $15,000 per month, Hawkins said. Of that, about $10,000 goes directly to support veterans. Everything else goes toward Gung Ho Ministries' expenses, which include Hawkins' wages as its only paid employee.
From the beginning, business has been brisk. With each additional year that the store has been open, it has increased the amount it's able to provide in support of veterans.
Creating a retail shop was the last thing Hawkins had in mind in 2010 when she felt a call to help needy people in her community. Instead, at the time, she teamed up with a friend, Linda Eastman, to distribute 125 freshly made sandwiches twice per month under the Burnside Bridge. After they'd been doing it awhile, they noticed their clients had other basic needs, like socks and hygiene kits — so they added them to the inventory to be given away.
The cost of the work Hawkins was doing was beginning to impact her personal budget.
"I wasn't working a regular job at this point," she said. "I was cleaning houses and doing what I could to help my household."
Hawkins started holding garage sales to raise the money she needed to continue to make and deliver sandwiches. People from her church gave freely to her once she told them what she had in mind. Then the neighbors turned out to donate.
As the months rolled along and despite the garage sales, the donations accumulated in Hawkins' garage, particularly clothing.
Opening a retail outlet just seemed like the natural step to take, and at the end of 2011, Hawkins used the best of the clothing donated to her to open her first resale shop on Southwest Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. She quit making sandwiches and started contributing the cash funds from the shop's sales to people in need in the community.
The shop was a great success — in part thanks to Hawkins' fashion sense, in part thanks to her ability to connect with her customers, and in part thanks to her ability to sell desirable clothes at even more desirable prices.
As the need to replace inventory became a reality, Hawkins said, she cultivated a network of high-end resale shops, persuading them to donate their unsold items to her shop.
What some might call a thrift shop in Hawkins' mind became something altogether fancier.
"All the clothing is donated, but it isn't run-of-the-mill dross. Far from it," she said.
When Hawkins gets items she can't use, she donates them to the Union Gospel Mission and Portland Metro in Northeast Portland.
Gung Ho Ministries also provides vouchers for clothing to the schools, the Beaverton Resource Center and homeless youth.
Amy Korkowski serves as board treasurer for Gung Ho Ministries. Like many people, she first got involved with the store initially as a shopper.
"I like going into secondhand stores, so I went into the store one day 10 years ago. I really liked the store," she recalled. "I started talking to Tanya, and I asked her if she needed volunteers, because I used to work at Nordstrom. I did that for about two years."
When the pandemic shut down shopping, Hawkins started showing merchandise to customers live on Gung Ho Ministries' Facebook page; a practice she follows to this day.
Husband Ben is the videographer as Hawkins displays and talks about the merchandise to viewers. The first one to comment on an item gets it. Hawkins said she puts the item in a bag with that customer's name on it, and they can pick it up at the shop in the next few days.
Anyone who follows Gung Ho Ministries on Facebook will get an invitation to watch and bid at 4 p.m. four days per week.
Hawkins doesn't do this alone, as she is quick to point out. She has four board members who help with all manner of administrative tasks, and she has a cadre of 15 to 20 volunteers who help her run the shop, many of whom have been with her for a decade.
"In the beginning," said Hawkins, "it was mostly people from my church, but now it's customers."
Making a difference for veterans is the overall motivation, but Hawkins said she finds the work satisfying.
"I love it," she said. "We have fun. Don't we have fun?" she asked, raising her voice to be heard over various conversations.
"I wouldn't be here if we didn't," a voice in the back replied. With that, the conversations in the shop resumed, as energetic as ever.
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