Undiscovered Treasures: Burnet Road
Undiscovered Treasures: Burnet Road
Eclectic shopping for the local do-gooder.
by Khortlyn Cole
Photographs by Defne Comlek and Mary Morris
On the corner of 49th and Burnet Road, Top Drawer Thrift, is just as quirky on the inside as its colorful exterior. Top Drawer Thrift is an Austin original, nonprofit thrift shop. In 1993, when Top Drawer Thrift opened its doors, the business immediately embedded themselves into the community of Austin. With only three hired employees, the store relies mostly on volunteers ranging from ages 12 to 82. Karin Kokinda, six-year-manager of the local consignment shop, raved about the wonders of working in a dynamic business.
“It’s constantly evolving. A woman came in on Wednesday and then she came in again on Thursday and she said ‘Oh my gosh, it’s like I’m walking into a new store’.” Kokinda said.
“Sometimes we’ll have so much stuff that we’re stacking a table on a table on a table with chairs teetering on it. So every day is a new adventure on what we’re getting.”
Proceeds from the shop go to several organizations and community projects in the Austin area; the eldest and prime subject being Doug’s House, a program under Project Transition. Doug’s House is a hospice facility for persons living with HIV/AIDS.
“People were being shunned by their families and their friends, hospitals were still having a difficult time figuring [the medicine] out,” Kokinda said. “Doug’s House opened and a lot of our donors had friends and family who passed away in our hospice and still remember how they were treated.”
The Top Drawer Thrift team doesn’t stop there. Kokinda and team try their hardest to take as many donations as possible. What they don’t display in the shop, Kokinda will give to other organizations that have a need. The Rosedale School, for example, is a recipient of excess school supplies and furniture, while the University Methodist Church picks up gently used clothes every Friday for the homeless community.
For Kokinda and her team, the constant shuffling and endless work isn’t an issue. All of the troubles that come from a donation based shop are worth it when the outcome betters the community.
“We do this, we don’t get paid a lot, but we do it because we’re passionate,” Kokinda said. “And we really do have a lot of fun doing it. It’s a labor of love, for sure.”
Directly across the street from Top Drawer Thrift sits the Assistance League of Austin. The Austin branch of the national association, National Assistance League. Making its mark in 1973, The National Assistance League opened its Austin location of the nonprofit business to begin serving the community.
A nonprofit, like Top Drawer Thrift, the Assistance League of Austin is run solely by volunteers. The exterior of the shop engages the eye in a colorful art visualization of childlike settings. Pictures of children on a playground and school busses adorn the wall alongside a greeting for customers to enter the shop, “Join the cool crowd, thrift is hip.”
Entering the shop, you find yourself in the Thrift House immediately greeted by a volunteer, listing off the specials, if any, and the best new items. The Thrift House is where donations are sold and is the monetary source for the nine programs the Assistance League of Austin hosts. Kathy Hurwitz, President of the organization, walked us through a couple of the major programs including Toy Cart.
“We go to NICU and the doctors will tell us ‘Y’all are even better medicine than we can provide these kids,’” Hurwitz said.
Toy Cart allows volunteers with the Assistance League of Austin travel to different hospitals within the city of Austin to brighten a child’s day with a toy. Crafty good samaritans even take the time to knit items for the children. The expansive stockroom holds toys for all ages and genders from hand knitted infant caps to dolls and electronics.
“We buy for infants to all the way up to, electronics for 21-year-olds, you know however old they are from when they started to treatment until they become adults,” said Hurwtiz.
The Assistance League of Austin helps community members of all ages with a total of nine programs. Bus With Us takes senior citizens on field trips, including one especially well-liked boat ride around Lake Austin, while Assault Survivor Kits arranges for survivors of assaults to get the materials needed to cope after trauma.
Though a national organization with over 400 members nationwide, each installment of the National Assistance League works to ingrain themselves into the community around them.
“This is an organization that gives clothing to poor little kids, toys to sick kids, we take the elderly, who don’t get out of their home very often, on boat rides,” Hurwitz said. “How can you not love what we do?”
Whether you’re walking, driving or biking, stop into any of the community enhancing shops on Burnet Road. Or, better yet, tackle your spring cleaning and donate your gently used items to one of these community strengthening shops.