Heading back to school in style, on a budget

School uniforms, like the elementary ones worn here by Denis (left) and Sophia, are available at Goodwill Niagara stores across the region. Melinda Cheevers/Metroland

Heading back to school can be a stressful time, not just for students but for parents as well.

In addition to stocking up on binders, paper and pencils, a new school year often means a new wardrobe for kids which can take a hefty toll on a parent’s bank account.

Roumi Ivanova, manager of retail operations at Goodwill Niagara said there is a better, more affordable, way. With stores in St. Catharines, Niagara Falls, Welland and, most recently, Port Colborne, Ivanova said there are plenty of options for students looking for new clothes. With donations of gently used clothing arriving daily, she said fresh stock goes out on the floor several times throughout the day.

“People have figured it out that we’re updating constantly throughout the day. If they can’t find what they’re looking for, they know they can come back later and it might be there,” she said.

Bob Romeo, director of marketing for Goodwill Niagara said one of the biggest cost savings to be found in the store are the used Catholic school uniforms. The price for a brand new uniform can cost upwards of $150 for all of the various items of clothing, whereas a student can be outfitted at Goodwill with the same items for under $20.

“Sweaters for example, are priced between $6 and $10 depending on size,” he said.

The stores have always accepted the donations as they come in, but in the past few years Ivanova said they’ve been actively seeking the uniforms by increasing awareness about Goodwill’s services.

“We find that as awareness in the community increases, so do donations,” she said.

Over the past two years, Goodwill stores across the province have been partnering with the Girl Guides organization and that’s helped to raise their profile in the community, Romeo said. Since the partnership, he said Girl Guides have organized clothing drives in their own homes as well as in their schools. The Girl Guides are given tours of the facilities and learn about the work Goodwill does in the community.

In addition to providing clothing, accessories and home wares and furniture at affordable prices, Goodwill provides work opportunities and skill development for people with barriers to employment or independence, and in Niagara in particular, they offer affordable housing for seniors.

Funds coming in through the Niagara shops go towards strengthening families in Niagara, creating jobs, training programs and affordable senior housing. All of the money spent in Niagara, stays in Niagara Ivanova said.

She knows first hand the positive impact Goodwill can have. Ivanova started working in the stores as a part-time employee working on the floor in one of the stores, now she’s manager of retail operations across the region.

As a not-for-profit operation, Ivanova said they are able to sell their items without charging sales tax, meaning the price you see on the sales tag is what you pay at the cashier. Available stock ranges depending on what is donated, she said when high end items come in — like a designer purse or invaluable collectibles — the items are put up for auction in the stores.

“We let the customers tell us what they’re willing to pay for those items, instead of trying to come up with a price for them,” she said.

When someone’s bid remains the highest for five days, that person wins the auction item.

Ivanova said hitting up Goodwill stores is a unique way to shop.

“You can find unique items here and head back to school showing off your own sense of style,” she said. “You won’t be wearing the same things everyone else is because we have lots of variety and options.”

New this year is the inclusion of many school supplies in the stores’ stock. From pencils, binders, and paper to locker mirrors, pencil cases and lunch boxes, Ivanova said there is everything students of all ages need to head back to school, not just clothes.

“We haven’t seen such a big selection of items in past years,” she said.

Saving on the clothing budget, Romeo said, can help parents allocate funds to other school costs, such as field trips and class activities.

“All of those things can add up,” he said. “This makes it a bit more manageable.”

The average price for shoes, shirts and pants all fall within the range of $3 to $6, with some designer labels costing a bit more.

For more information on Goodwill Niagara programs and store locations, visit them online at http://goodwillniagara.com.

Source: Niagara this Week, http://www.niagarathisweek.com/news-story/6821818-heading-back-to-school-in-style-on-a-budget/