The Gift of Thrift

T-shirts $2. Jeans $7. Handwritten signs point to bargains galore at the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) Council Thrift Shop.

More than simply the promise of finding the great find, thrift stores offer their patrons the opportunity to connect with history and community, as well as beauty. The mission statements of Jewish thrift stores are admirable, including assistance to refugees and empowerment of women. Dependent on a community that values philanthropy, Jewish thrift stores look to donations to drive the aid to needy people.

One person’s donation can prove to be another’s treasure. Armed with a $50 budget and mandated to find a fabulous outfit at Jewish thrift stores about town, I began my quest at the Council Thrift on Fairfax near Canter’s Deli. Rummaging through bargain bins and haggling over price are inimical to my sensibilities. I was not confident that I could achieve my mission.

I couldn’t have asked for a better initiation to thrift store shopping than that provided by the Council Thrift. Clothing organized by category would prove to be a luxury that most other thrift stores eschew. A white faux fur coat that Liberace would have envied beckoned me as soon as I walked in, but it was much too early in the game to spend $35, a decision I now regret as I dream about what could have been the funky find of the century.

Because of my limited budget, I passed over lovely pieces, such as a long, black linen dress ($18) and a pair of gray suit slacks ($15). Instead, I opted for bargains that would make up part of the head-to-toe ensemble that I imagined for myself — a pink print skirt ($5) and a pair of black boots ($6). $39 left.

On the flip side of the thrill of finding a unique item is the impossibility of satisfying a friend’s need to buy the same thing. Edith Goodman, who has worked for Council Thrift since 1993, says that some days the young Hollywood hipster comes away empty-handed, and on other days she will walk out with an armload of bargains.

But what is consistent is the presence of beauty.

There is little challenge in spotting some designer’s idea of what is desirable, marketed and hermetically sealed in pretty packaging at department stores. But such as in life, there is a special society of people who search for, and find, beauty in its myriad incarnations in the less obvious places in the world. “Last week I found a brand-new designer jacket,” said one shopper with obvious pride. “My friend couldn’t believe it.”

The strength of community ties is apparent at Council Thrift. Many seniors come to spend time engaged in an inexpensive form of entertainment, as well as healthy competition over finding treasure more fantastic than the one before.

The effort to build strong community is an important mission of the NCJW/LA.

I met a woman at Council Thrift who had picked out a navy suit, a black skirt and cream-colored ruffled blouse for a job interview. She told me about a program that provides free clothing to people in need. Called Women Helping Women Services (WHWS), a nonsectarian community service of the NCJW/LA, this organization works to empower women to improve the quality of their lives and the lives of their children. The WHWS Emergency Survival Fund provides food and clothing vouchers. While the woman declined to be named for the article, she said, “I am thankful for it.”

There is a similar program at the Hadassah Thrift Store in Santa Monica, which provides needy people with clothing. It is a small shop, but one that is lovingly kept by Nena Reyes and Tita Aspiras.

I spent a good two hours trying on clothes that I couldn’t believe were donated: a little black cocktail dress, a floral summer dress, a sexy knit sweater. Perhaps my eyes had sharpened to finding nice things. More likely, it was the magic of Nena and Tita who pulled things off racks for me to try that I never would have picked out for myself. Their enthusiasm and dirt-cheap prices were able to make this conservative person tread outside her fashion comfort zone and go on an adventure. I felt like Mick Jagger’s little sister trying on satin pajama pants and a suede jacket worthy of a rock star.

These thrift stores are treasure troves for those who have the appreciation for things beyond superficial beauty — the connection to humanity, the appreciation of the many definitions of art, the desire for community, the heart for philanthropy. In these shops, beauty is transcendent, defined by no one person, neither by price nor by season. It belongs to all who search for it and see it wherever they look.

When something is beautiful, it calls out from among the ranks and inspires people to act.

Rhoda Weisman, chief creative officer of Hillel International and avid thrift shop patron, said, “How one lives one’s life is an art, and it should be beautiful.” Inspired by her new Vermeer print in gold frame ($20) and old-fashioned tea table etched with Victorian flowers ($5), Weisman rearranged her bedroom at midnight.

Beauty moves us in truly wondrous ways.

Should you wish to donate, please contact:

National Council of Jewish Women/Los

543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles

(323) 651-2930

For free pickup seven days a week, call

(323) 655-3111 or (800) 400-NCJW (toll free)

NCJW/LA Council Thrift Shop

Locations/Donation Centers

11571 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

(310) 477-9613

455 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles (323) 651-2080

1052 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles (323) 938-8122

7818 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

(323) 654-8516

18511 Sherman Way, Reseda (818) 609-7618

14526 Victory Blvd., Van Nuys (818) 997-8980

Women Helping Women Services

(323) 655-3807

(877) 655-3807 (toll free)

Hadassah Southern California

1452 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica

(310) 395-3824 (store)

(310) 479-3200 (main office)