I am RIFA – Thrift Store
For today’s installment of I am RIFA, we’d like to introduce you to Deb Utley, Manager of the RIFA Thrift Store, and Shaka Smith, the RIFA Thrift Store’s Assistant Manager. One of RIFA’s several hunger-fighting ministries, the Thrift Store, located at 133 Airways Boulevard in Jackson, helps our community by collecting gently-used donations and making them available at low cost to the public. All proceeds support RIFA’s mission to fight hunger. Anyone can shop in the RIFA Thrift Store, so next time you stop by to shop, one of these ladies will be there to greet you.
Deb has worked as the Thrift Store Manager since November 2022, and Shaka started her position in May of this year. When asked about their favorite parts of working in the Thrift Store, Deb shared, “One of my favorite parts about the Thrift Store is interacting with our customers. I think it’s very important that we interact with the public and provide what they need. If they need something extra, we go the extra mile for them.” Shaka answered, “I actually have several favorite things. I love when the customers come in and I get to interact with them. I like that the prices are awesome. You can help someone get the items they need at a better cost versus going down to bigger retail stores where things are quite pricey. I love those parts.”
Before starting her position at RIFA, Deb worked in the healthcare industry. She explained, “The experience of getting the job here was strictly because of God’s intervention. I’m a nurse by trade, and one day it was time for me to make a change. This door opened immediately for me. I know there was divine intervention with it. I know I’m supposed to be here. I have not worked in retail before, but it seemed when I first came into the store, it came naturally. Every day is a new experience. I’m learning every day.”
Shaka came to work at RIFA after her friend Tracie, RIFA’s Volunteer Coordinator, told her about the available position. “I was working full-time at a bigger department store, and I had been praying for a change. One day my phone dinged, and it was my friend Tracie, and she said, ‘Hey! I think you’d be great at RIFA in this position.’ She gave me the information, and everything fell into place from there.”
One thing that many people don’t know about the RIFA Thrift Store is that it has food available for purchase, both on the shelves and in a refrigerated section. The store carries bread, pastries, non-perishable items, and whatever food donations are in stock. Shaka told us, “A lot of people don’t know that we have food, and the prices we have are unbelievable. Also, many people don’t know that we sell household items like small appliances—microwaves, toasters, coffee pots, etc. People who come looking for those will find them at a great price.”
Another perk of the Thrift Store is that it offers discounts that change depending on the day of the week. “We have several discounts throughout the week. Monday through Friday, we have set deals of the day for categories like jewelry, clothing, furniture, and more,” Shaka said. “Saturdays, it varies. You never know—you just have to come in and shop with us to see what the deal is!”
In addition to offering discounts to shoppers, the Thrift Store allows people in need to redeem vouchers for certain items. Deb explained, “Vouchers are distributed through RIFA’s front office. These vouchers provide food, clothing, household items, and furniture to those in need. When they bring them in, we do everything we can to fulfill those vouchers and meet their needs. It’s hard for a lot of people to come to RIFA and ask for a voucher, so it’s important that we respect people’s dignity as we do those things.”
When asked if she had any special stories to share during her time working in the Thrift Store, Deb told us, “About two weeks into my time in this position, a gentleman came in the store who was chair-bound. I felt something different about this person. It was like God was speaking to me saying, ‘Help him with everything he needs.’ I did. It was winter when he came in, and he was barefoot. I remember reverting back to my nursing days a bit and helped him put shoes and socks on. This man has never been back in the store since. I had a feeling after that experience that I was indeed in the presence of someone God had sent for me to minister to that day.”
Shaka shared, “At RIFA, we have prayer time every day around 1:15pm. Each day, it’s in a different ministry around the building, but when it’s in the Thrift Store, because it’s a public place, other people get to join and see it happen. Last week, we were having prayer in the Thrift Store, and we invited the customers to join us, and one lady said, ‘No, I don’t think so. I better not.’ I said that everyone can use prayer. She replied, ‘Okay, my leg has been hurting me.’ She told me a few other things that were hurting her, and then she asked if she could stand by me in the prayer circle. I said sure, and afterward, she came to me and said how thankful she was that I invited her to join and that she needed it and was glad she joined. That interaction really touched me.”
As we wrapped up our interview, Deb explained the joy that she has from her role in the Thrift Store. “I look forward to the progress, growth, camaraderie, teambuilding, and whatever it takes to make RIFA successful in our mission to fight hunger.”
Shaka concluded, “RIFA is always needing volunteers. If you have a heart for this ministry, or if you know someone who does, come on in. You can get with Tracie, fill out the volunteer form, and come to RIFA to volunteer somewhere. Everybody is needed.”
We are so grateful for the RIFA Thrift Store team and these ladies’ dedication to helping people in need. Visit the Thrift Store Monday through Saturday from 9am-5pm to see their smiling faces and make purchases that support the community!
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