A retirement community might be the last place you would think to look for college stuff, but at Panorama in Lacey, you never know what you might find. Walking into their thrift store, named after its founders, I’m impressed by the many different treasures available. Everything is neat, clean and there are plenty of volunteers ready to help you find whatever it is you need. With a history going back forty-seven years, I’m surprised I’ve never been here before.
As Panorama resident Ernesta Ballard gives me the grand tour, she explains how items are organized by purpose and that new things are added every week. However this is only part of what the residents at Panorama have to offer. If you are looking for furniture, lamps or books, stop by their newest store at 4011 14th Ave., Encore Furniture and Books. As Ernesta says, “We take things that we think we can sell, but we also take things that have one more life left in them. It’s wonderful for us and it’s wonderful for the public. And the prices are just great.”
We walk to another building filled with labeled boxes and even more items. Ernesta explains this is all for their giant patio sale which takes place each July. She explains how the entire parking lot is emptied and table after table are displayed with just about everything you can think of. “This is one of the reasons my husband and I chose to come here,” she says. When Ernesta and her late husband considered moving down from Ketchikan, Alaska, they didn’t know a soul. But, after coming the week before the sale and seeing the enthusiasm and energy here, they knew they were home.
After Ernesta’s husband passed away she really stepped up her efforts to volunteer with the patio sale and thrift stores. And in turn, she found it was the healing she needed. “It worked out for me. It did help me crawl out of that hole,” she recalls. “When you just know that you share that grief, it’s nice. My family here, these people are my lifeline.” Next, she introduces me to Gail Madden, part of the group she calls family at Panorama.
Gail serves as the Vice President for the Benevolent Fund, the recipient of all funds raised from the two thrift stores and the patio sale each summer. Started in 1972, The Benevolent Fund enhances lives here at Panorama for the better. “It was started by residents to care for other residents. That was the main goal,” Gail explains. “First thing [the Fund] ever did was buy somebody a winter coat for thirty-nine dollars.”
These days the Benevolent Fund serves as a leg up for those in the Panorama community who may need extra help. “We do it to help ourselves have a better life while we’re living. We do it to ease the burden on families when a resident passes. We do it for the community to have a place to shop. And ultimately, we do it for the residents who need additional help,” Gail shares. “It’s sort of a win-win for everyone. Life happens and you can think you’re just fine and then something happens and you’re not as fine as you thought you were.”
Operating as an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit, the Benevolent Fund also contributes to capital projects on the Panorama campus as well as paying the salaries of three social services staff members serving independent living residents, assisted living and skill nursing residents. In addition, it serves as a scholarship fund when someone is in need. It’s because the Fund is such a great cause that Gail volunteers her time.
“I think I do it because it’s really what makes Panorama different than your average retirement community. There’s a spirit here that says we support each other and we do what we need to do to support each other. And we do it voluntarily. We share things and support the community and that’s important to understand because there are people out there who aren’t as fortunate as we are.”
Which brings us full circle as to why the thrift stores exist and thrive in the first place. It’s all about the people and helping the community. When things don’t sell, or they aren’t quite right for the stores, as is often the case with clothing, the items are donated to other non-profits in the area. “Friendship and fellowship comes out on top again and again. And Panorama really offers friendship and fellowship. It’s a real neighborhood,” Ernesta says.
This year, the organization is trying something new with Encore Furniture and Books. The store is typically open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m. However, the group is planning a Grand Opening Saturday Sale on April 29 from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Ernesta says it’s a trial run to see if they are successful enough to leave these heavier items at this location for the patio sale in July. With an all-volunteer crew of seven-hundred and fifty people, many of whom are in their 80’s, it would make things a lot easier on everybody. They encourage everyone in the community to stop by and see all the great things they have to offer while also helping a great cause.
Both the Stiles-Beach Barn thrift store and Encore Furniture and Books are open year round, three days a week. Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m.