By the time she got to the cash register, Nicole U’ren’s two shopping carts were heaped head-high with clothing and other merchandise. Other customers were looking, and she and her daughter were laughing.
“It was a sensation at the store,” she recalls.
Nicole felt like celebrating. The mother of four had succeeded way beyond her expectations in a shopping trip she’d been looking forward to for a long time.
In fact, she’d been planning the expedition for nearly six months, since her family suffered series of financial setbacks. She’d had a protracted recovery from childbirth, followed by repayment of insurance premiums. The furnace at their home in Sparta, Tenn. broke. And the household’s other breadwinner, Allen Williams, suffered a heart attack before Christmas.
Nicole’s kids, ages 2, 5, 14 and 17, had worn out or grown out of most of their shoes and clothes, and she and Allen desperately needed work clothes. It all left her counting the days until her tax return arrived.
She picked Feb. 7 to spend her check from the IRS. Being a longtime Goodwill shopper, Nicole knew that all merchandise is always half-price at Goodwill stores on the first Saturday of the month. She set a firm budget of $500, and she and her 17-year-old daughter drove from Sparta to the Cookeville Goodwill, where they plunged into what was ultimately a four-hour shopping odyssey.
Their selections included a pair of oxblood wing-tip shoes her 14-year-old son loves and a variety of pink shirts, random skirts and “very girly” pants for her 2-year-old daughter, who had been wearing boys’ hand-me-downs. They found pants for Nicole’s kindergarten-age son. And they picked out some nice shirts for Allen that Nicole explained “do not come in a four-pack and have a pocket on the front.”
Along the way, they got a lot of help from Goodwill staff members. At one point, a male employee modeled three different coats Nicole was considering for her older son before finding one that turned out to fit him perfectly. A female employee not only helped Nicole find racks with clothes for her kindergartner, she pointed out some items that later turned out to be his favorites. Another employee showed Nicole a rack where she could put the dozens of clothes hangers she left empty. Nicole took a picture of all the empty hangers.
When they finally rounded the corner and got in the long line for the cash register, cashier
Zully spied them coming from a distance, baskets heaping.
“That’s when I realized, ‘Uh-oh, I better brace myself,’” Zully recalled, laughing. “It was quite a challenge.”
When Nicole finally reached the register, Zully began ringing and ringing and ringing up the merchandise.
“(She) thanked us with nearly every item she scanned,” Nicole said.
When all the items were run up, the store’s manager, who is also named Nicole, lifted the paper receipt for the purchases over her head. It draped almost to the floor on both sides. Nicole U’Ren took a photo of the manager holding the receipt.
“Before the half-off discount, the total came to $1,037 — definitely the largest transaction anyone here has ever seen,” the store manager said, “and our assistant managers have both been here 15 years. That’s really saying something.”
Nicole U’Ren was thrilled to learn that her shopping expenses came within a few bucks of her $500 budget. After all, she had bought numerous items for everyone in her six-person family.
“I got enough clothes so that three of my four kids have full dressers,” she explained.
When she got home, Nicole U’Ren took a picture of all her bags from Goodwill, covering the porch of her home.
Later, she posted all the photos from her trip on Facebook. On the Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee page, she posted the picture of Zully and the store manager holding the receipt along with brief note detailing her trip.
“Dear Goodwill,” she wrote. “These women were amazing! I want to thank them & all the other friendly helpful employees you have. I am blessed to have had such a wonderful shopping experience.”
It was a memorable experience for the store’s employees as well.
“It was absolutely great,” store manager Nicole said. “We say ‘Goodwill changes lives,’ but really and truly it felt good to know that Goodwill could help supply her family with clothes. She’d been waiting a long time, and Goodwill made that possible.”