Think of where you were back in the year 2000. 22 years ago, you would have found this author worrying most about what time Spongebob Squarepants was on TV, blissfully unaware of pet overpopulation, homeless cats and the state of animal rescue in and around Calgary.
In contrast, it was at this time that 11 passionate volunteers were laying the groundwork for MEOW Foundation. At the time MEOW was founded, the majority of cats in Calgary’s shelters faced euthanasia. The organization’s founders set out to create an alternative model where no cat would be killed.
Today, MEOW Foundation cares for over 1,000 cats per year and is well-known as a leader in cat care and behaviour in Calgary and beyond. Since its creation, those steering the organization knew that they would need to be creative in finding revenue streams aside from donations.
The Path to Our Own Thrift Shop
In the early days of MEOW, board members and other volunteers held frequent large garage sales throughout the summer in Calgary. They took place in volunteers’ yards and smaller community centres. These sales became a great revenue stream and a fundraising activity that no other local rescue was doing. They slowly grew, culminating in MEOW sub-leasing a small space as a pop-up shop to sell books and other items. When that shop did very well, it solidified MEOW’s path toward its very own thrift shop.
With a leap of faith and a huge amount of work, MEOW Charity Thrift Shop was born! The shop opened in northeast Calgary in 2019.
More Than Just a Store
“It’s kind of like the TV show Cheers. In the show, someone will walk in and everyone will go ‘Hi, Norm!’ That’s it here.”
MEOW Foundation has been strongly grounded in the Calgary community since its inception, and MEOW Charity Thrift Shop is no different. While it is fully owned and operated by MEOW, the thrift shop has its own flavour and community feel and has built strong relationships within and outside the store. “It’s kind of like the TV show Cheers,” store manager Sandra says. “In the show, someone will walk in and everyone will go ‘Hi, Norm!’ That’s it here.
“Regulars are on a first name basis and depending on who it is, they come in every day and know all of us. Our relationships with all our frequent customers are very comfortable and casual, to the point where we even know their tastes and what they’re looking for so we can attend to them. It’s a relaxed and mutually beneficial relationship.”
The shop’s focus on community and relationship building has had a significant impact on the store’s popularity and helped it grow largely through word of mouth. In addition to great service and connecting with new and existing customers, MEOW Charity Thrift Shop is active in the community, particularly in the neighbourhood of Greenview where it’s located. The store’s frequent activity in the local sphere has gotten it featured on the community’s website and on the social media feeds of the many other businesses in the area. Making friends in the online community has helped the shop spread its reach and impact even wider.
Helping MEOW Foundation Grow
The thrift shop has had a massive impact on MEOW Foundation in the short few years it’s been open, bringing in a significant portion of the revenue that funds our programs and services including Rescue and Adoption, Trap Neuter Return and Spay Neuter Assistance. Of course there is always some competition for donations among similar charities, and more and more animal rescues with similar values to MEOW’s have been founded in recent years. This makes the thrift shop an even more valuable way to bring in funds that help us continue our life-saving work.
However, it’s more than just finances. The shop provides even more avenues for MEOW to fundraise and it also contributes to MEOW’s brand identity and personality. “MEOW has always been a small ’boutique’ of sorts (for a lack of a better descriptor), making a name for itself in a relatively niche area like cat rescue,” Sandra says. “So even though we hold onto that idea at the thrift store, MEOW is expanding fast. I think that the charm of the thrift store and its sense of being grassroots does ground the charity as a whole to retain a community-based feel. The vibe and energy of the place puts our best foot forward, that we’re still a non-profit and still have charitable action as our first and only intent.”
“I feel like we’re making a huge difference here.”
When asked if she felt like working at MEOW Charity Thrift Shop was making a difference, Sandra’s answer was immediate and enthusiastic: “Absolutely. I feel like we’re making a huge difference here. Other than the financial aspect and the satisfaction I get from knowing exactly where our money is going, the Adoption Centre has to be on a very meticulous schedule because of the amount of care that the cats need. Here, we still get to help but we have the freedom to be a bit more creative and flexible.”
How Can You Help?
With an ever-expanding social enterprise and a vet clinic on the horizon, MEOW’s role in the animal welfare landscape is growing quickly! Whether you want to help but are allergic to cats, love the community aspect or just love thrift shops, MEOW Charity Thrift Shop is the perfect place to contribute to MEOW’s overall impact.
The shop is largely volunteer-run and Sandra is always searching for helping hands. Learn more about available positions and how to apply.
All the thrift items in the shop are donated by the public. If you’re looking to donate pre-loved items to a great cause, information on what is accepted and how to donate is available on the shop’s website.