Op Shop offers job opportunities too

November 25, 2022

The most popular day of the week at the IHC Opportunity Shop in Pukekohe is Thursday – the day when you can ‘fill a basket for $10’.

But recently a Tuesday topped the Thursday crowd. That was when the shop filled up after COVID mask restrictions were lifted, says IHC Retail Assistant Kathleen Felix.

For 40 years, the Op Shop has offered great deals to raise funds for people with intellectual disabilities. Elaine Brown has volunteered at the shop from the start and now, at over 80 years of age, still sorts clothes at the back of the shop once a week, never sure what she is going to find.

Some of the surprises are pretty grim but, she says, one day a man’s suit jacket came in with $300 in the pocket. They put the money in the safe for several months and contacted the police, but no one came looking for it.

Elaine and her husband Lewis had four children. Their eldest, Arthur, has an intellectual disability and is supported by IDEA Services. Elaine has lived in the Franklin area for more than 50 years.

A team of 20 volunteers and three paid staff work at the Op Shop. Two of the paid employees are young people with disabilities. Rebekah Baker and Amber Williams are employed as cleaners, sharing the week between them and working two-hour shifts alongside Kathleen.

“It’s my first job in my entire life,” says Rebekah, who will leave school this year. She has done work experience in several other places too, but she would love to find a role that involves music. She has played the guitar since she was a child.

Amber says that apart from cleaning she helps in sorting the clothing that comes in. “I love being there. I love the company and the old ladies love me.”

The Op Shop is a success story. Before COVID it was turning over $5000 a week. The money provides many extras for people we support, including sports participation, gym memberships and kapa haka uniforms.

The shop took a hit during the pandemic, but sales are increasing again according to Janet Wallington, former IHC Counties Association secretary, who looks after the shop’s finances.

IHC Op Shops have come and gone throughout the country – the first one opened in Newtown in Wellington, but the Counties shop is one of the survivors.

As business at the Pukekohe shop expanded, so did the size of the shops. In March 2021 the Op Shop moved to a 2500-square-metre premises at 7 Hall Street – its fourth shop in 40 years of trading. The first shop opened in 1981 at a former barber’s shop in King Street. In 1998 it moved down the road to an electrician’s at King Street. Another shift took the shop to 41 Seddon Lane.

The IHC Op Shop had something for everyone. Along with the usual second-hand clothes and household items, it sold fresh fruit and vegetables, jams and pickles made by IHC volunteers and new furniture handmade by disabled people in various IHC vocational centres throughout Auckland.

These days the fresh fruit and vegetables are gone, and so are the jams, pickles and handmade furniture. But the shop continues to hit the sweet spot in Pukekohe.

Caption 1: IHC Op Shop staff Rebekah Baker and Amber Williams keep the Pukekohe store shipshape.

Caption 2: Elaine Brown, Kathleen Felix and Janet Wallington.


This story was published in Strong Voices. The magazine is posted free to all IHC members. Read the full issue of Strong Voices or view more articles.