VINNIES: New Byron Bay Vinnies manager Karen Cole (left) with volunteers Chris Burke and her 91-year-old mother Val, and Philip Macrae.
VINNIES: New Byron Bay Vinnies manager Karen Cole (left) with volunteers Chris Burke and her 91-year-old mother Val, and Philip Macrae. Robin Osborne

Vinnies keeps up vital work

AFTER many years in the Northern Territory, Karen Cole has changed addresses and careers in ways she never dreamed of, becoming the new manager of the Vinnies thrift shop in Byron Bay.

Although Karen has has extensive business experience working in communities with great diversity, she is new to the not-for-profit sector, having just started volunteering at Vinnies a few months ago.

"It's a far cry from the outback NT,” Karen said.

"But everything changes, and here I am, managing these wonderful volunteers who make this shop the success it is.”

The three shops in Byron Shire - Mullumbimby, Brunswick Heads and Byron Bay itself - are among the most successful of St Vincent de Paul's 29 shops between Tweed Heads and Port Macquarie.

Total sales of reusable clothing and household items number in the hundreds of thousands, according to the region's retail manager Kim Boyd.

"It's not only a win for shoppers, who find quality goods at bargain prices, but a win for the environment as well as we're significantly reducing the amount of discarded items that would otherwise go to landfill,” Kim said.

"We're talking about tonnes of perfectly usable goods each year, which is a real contribution to the war on waste.”

"Proceeds of sales are also spent in local communities to help struggling families and individuals.

"This has enabled us to base our community outreach worker here in Byron Bay two days a week, in addition to the great work he does at the Winsome soup kitchen and residential service in Lismore.

"Our conference centres in the three towns work closely with people in real need.

"In the quarter to September, the Byron team saw 136 people, almost half of them homeless, and a good many single parents. Nearly everyone is on welfare assistance.

"The main issues were food security, accommodation and health issues, and problems paying their bills.

"The same issues apply in Bruns, where we helped 93 people, and a further 51 in Mullum. This is just in three months, and it's replicated year-round.

Vinnies also represents the state government's EAPA scheme that subsidises energy bills for eligible households. In this social context Karen Cole knows the importance of the shop performing to the max, in terms of donations received and goods displayed and turnover.

"We're lucky because of the tourist numbers and the transient population. People leave us some great clothes, and the turnover of stock is amazing. That said, it's a really diverse demographic, from the very wealthy to the very poor,” she said.

"Byron is a real eye opener, which is something I never expected to say again after those years in the Territory!”


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