While I was out spelunking for a job, I chanced to walk into a place I had visited only once before. The place is a thrift store called Community Aid. I knew very little about them, except for a brief memory of a time when I had purchased an entire wardrobe’s worth of clothing on a Wednesday for about forty dollars. I knew very little about the business save that they were hiring. For what, I did not know.

I interviewed the day after I submitted my application. I was hired on immediately to work with their books. In the three weeks since I started working at Community Aid, I discovered a number of interesting facts.

First- and most significant- the thrift store is a 501c non-profit that donates the majority of its profits to charity. As of February of this year, the store where I work has donated a total of three million dollars to various charities. Among these are food kitchens, food banks and homeless shelters. The long-standing idea I had once had about government being the main source of society’s charitable contributions was quickly dispelled.

Once I started looking around my area (Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania), I discovered that there are many such thrift stores operating. Volunteers of America has one. The Salvation Army has one as well. Both of these organizations are also non-profit companies devoted to helping out charities.

Secondly, there is something wonderful about buying something you may want or need at a very low price, knowing that your purchase is a compassionate one. For example: today, in my capacity as “the book person,” I put some Harry Potter books on the shelves. They were all sold within a few hours of my putting them up there. So it’s really a win-win all around. A customer gets a paperback book for a dollar. Part of that dollar goes towards keeping charitable operations up and running.

In a society of abundance, where people purchase goods and products often on impulse, the real winners are those in the secondary market. The people who dig through yard sales at six AM on a Saturday morning. The people who show up at a non-profit thrift store a few times every week searching for a bargain. The people who have stuff to get rid of who do not wish to clutter up a dumpster with their personal possessions. These are the real winners in the equation- leaving aside all the people who have to rely on charity to get by in the world.

The sales are not compulsory. No one is forced to buy anything. Yet, people often do buy things- if for no other reason then there are no better deals to be had anywhere. A thousand-page book by Stephen King for two dollars is a good deal, no matter how you slice it.

Thirdly, there really is no limit for how far this can go. Although I’ve heard it said that Community Aid is the biggest thrift store in the country, my experiences working there on Wednesday- their busiest day of the week- suggests that the business is in expansion mode. Indeed, the store often receives more donations than it can handle on a daily basis. There have been times when it has had to turn away books because the unsorted volumes are stacked up in my workspace.

Nor is the book section the only section to experience this. Despite customers lining up at 8:45 AM to be the first in the store for when the doors open at 9 AM, I have never seen a section of the store that was unstocked or empty. Every day, there is something new to do in the store. I have never seen anyone sent home early for a lack of something to do. Nor does anyone pick up a broom and start sweeping. There just isn’t any time for that.

A 2010 census recorded the population of Mechanicsburg, PA at 9000. Imagine what would happen if a store such as Community Aid operated within a big city where the population numbers in the millions? How much revenue could it generate for charities then?

And- the most important question of all- with free-market charity already effective and proven so- can any argument be made in favor of government assistance programs? It seems to me that in the years to come, thrift stores such as the one at which I work will be the new normal in America.

One other fact I may be neglecting to mention: thanks to this store, I now have a job. I did not have one previously.