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Posted by portugalpress on December 15, 2017
Ann and Shiona
Betty Dowell, president of the association Mãos de Ajuda
Mãos de Ajuda charity shop, Tavira
Only good quality items are sold

Whenever I go to Mãos de Ajuda second-hand shop, I am impressed by the apparent happiness of the staff. Their smiles are for each other and for their customers. What is their secret? Many of them worked in a similar Tavira shop until the shop stopped opening on Mondays - their regular day.

The “Monday Girls” continued to meet for lunch and they decided to start their own second-hand shop. In November 2016, under the leadership of Betty Dowell, they set up the Associação de Caridade Mãos de Ajuda with the aim of giving help to the most needful of Tavira.

They were lucky to find generous shop space in the newer part of Tavira at a reasonable rent. Husband Willy Dowell was able to fit bookshelves, hanging space for clothes, tables for bric-a-brac, and even fitting rooms with mirrors.

In step with commercial practice, they declared not Black Friday, but Black Saturday, attracting on the day 63 visitors who found that many items had been marked at half-price.

Although second-hand shops are a common sight in Britain, they are still unusual in Portugal. The challenge facing Betty and her team was to get Portuguese people to understand the concept of the charity shop.

Anne suggested that Portuguese did not like the idea of their children wearing second-hand clothes, but appreciating the quality of the goods on sale and seeing foreigners buying second-hand goods, they changed.

The current difficult financial situation may have helped them to change their minds. The majority of customers now are Portuguese, and they are also becoming accustomed to donating goods for sale, for example when houses have to be emptied.

Any item which fails the good quality test is recycled: wearable clothes go to the Cruz Vermelha, faulty electrical goods are passed on to the Irene Rolo Foundation which also takes any broken jewellery for disabled people to decorate gifts and gift boxes.

The association accepts referrals only from Social Services, and individuals seeking help will also be referred to the Câmara Social Services. The countryside in Tavira Concelho also has needs, believes Betty.

As younger people move away for work, the population in rural areas is ageing and becoming more vulnerable. Betty is ambitious to expand the charity’s activities into the boondocks of the Algarve.

Marion has lived in the Algarve since 1998 and feels strongly that the association fills a gap in society because Social Services cannot do everything.

The camaraderie in the shop is attractive, and she welcomes the chance to be involved in a charity aimed to benefit people rather than animals.

The low number of available staff limits opening days and times, and not all of the volunteers are available all year round. The original staff are expatriates, but Portuguese Fátima is now a regular volunteer and the association has recently taken on additional volunteers and could, in the future perhaps, increase the opening hours.

Karen from Hawaii is married to a Portuguese. She clearly enjoys her work at the shop as she meets people from different walks of life, and gets a chance to speak English with new friends in a communal environment.

Many people buy books, then bring them back again, and so the shop can make money more than once on the same item.

Shiona was on her first morning on the floor of the shop, having spent the previous day sorting items for sale. Her motive for volunteering was to help her learn Portuguese and to integrate into Portuguese life.

Trudie spends a great deal of time on the till and her knowledge of Portuguese is improving all the time. Another of her jobs is to manage the association’s Facebook site. She and the other assistants have also developed great sales skills. My ‘personal shoppers’ found me three wonderful party dresses (which I bought), in spite of the fact that I was there only to interview people and take photographs.

Donations made from profits made in the shop include: 50% of the cost of a wheelchair; bedding, towels and toiletries to the shelter for the homeless in Tavira; kitchenware and clothes for those affected by the disastrous fires this year in the centre of Portugal; €1,100 to the Tavira palliative care centre; school bags and kits for children in care; washing machines for needful families; and the money for the Red Cross to buy a defibrillator.

Betty and her team are justifiably proud of their contributions. It seems that within a year Mãos de Ajuda has carved a place for itself in the heart of the community of Tavira.

And the secret of the smile? I put it down to the friendships between the members of staff and the knowledge that they are making a positive contribution to the local community. Every organisation needs a leader, and Betty’s smile is infectious. She runs a happy ship.

Associação de Caridade Mãos de Ajuda, a happy first birthday to you, and best wishes for many more successful years.

Mãos de Ajuda is open from 10am until 1pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays at 13A Avenida Dr Eduardo de Mansinho, Tavira. Volunteers are welcome.

By Lynne Booker

Lynne Booker, along with her husband Peter, founded the Algarve History Association.