Joni Ginsburg of the Second Chance Thrift Shoppe, 355 Broadway St., backed by the Kingsfield Church, has seen it all. She sorts through the riffraff daily, not hoping for a miracle but just decent clothes and goods that will turn a profit.
"We get both ends of the spectrum," she said. "We get very great stuff that have very expensive tags still left on them, and I had somebody bring in cat litter one day."
Someone donated a diamond ring, $200 blouses from Bloomingdales and designer jeans whose rips and holes are considered assets.
The problem is, fancy is not necessarily a good thing.
"We do get treasures but those are the hardest to sell because people do expect when they come into a thrift store not to pay a lot," said Ginsburg, 72, who has been in social work most of her life. She understands the psychology of both the shopper and the donor.
"I know common sense is not very common," she said, lamenting the trash that some people still consider worthy — and the misguided sense of entitlement that they feel when dropping it off.
"It has paint on it, holes, tears, dirt — our homeless wouldn't even wear this stuff," she said. "This is not a garage sale."
Thrift stores mean different things to different people.
"We really don't serve the poor that much, and probably because we put out the very best that we get. So we work at it a little bit harder," she said. "It's more than a business for us. It's a ministry and we try to fill that hole for some people."
Second Chance donates portions of its proceeds to several groups, including Soul Surfing School in Laguna, a ministry in Honduras, an orphanage in the Philippines, Campus Crusade for Christ and others.
Across town, the only other official thrift store is run by the Assistance League, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It, too, uses proceeds to fund philanthropic projects, such as helping challenged infants or children who are suffering through traumatic experiences.
The lessons learned in thrift stores transcend yesterday's labels, or the retro styles that you might be trying to resurrect.
It's a continuation of why we care. We recycle good will locally. And yes, we sometimes try to make ends meet.
"I just came from South Coast Plaza, and I felt like I was in another world," Ginsburg said. "I had not been at a mall in so long, and when I looked at all the names of all the expensive shops and all the people, I felt like I was so out of place. It was kind of surreal.
"Because I feel like, if it doesn't come into the thrift shop, I don't need it."
No, none of us really need it, which is why we end up giving it all away.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.