As a girl growing up in North Carolina, Lisa Campbell Rivers was accustomed to hearing conversations about politics in her home. Her father is Tom Campbell, the longtime moderator of the political talk show “NC SPIN” and a former assistant state treasurer. Her grandfather was a state legislator.
Service to others was also emphasized. Her mother is Lib Campbell, a long-serving Methodist pastor. And some of Rivers’ earliest memories involve her family ringing bells for the Salvation Army’s kettle campaign at Christmastime. (The crazier the headgear the better.)
Both the politics and the community service left an impression on Rivers, but the “love your neighbor” message resonated.
“I’ve grown up around politics enough to be disgusted by it,” says Rivers. It’s too polarizing, she says, and takes too long to get things accomplished.
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Instead, Rivers says she has found her calling in community service, volunteering for the Salvation Army of Wake County, the same faith-based organization her family has supported for decades.
“This is where somebody like me can make a difference,” says Rivers, a real estate agent and the parent of two adult children.
“I certainly can’t do it by running for office or donating money, but I have time and energy,” she says.
These days, Rivers focuses those energies on the Salvation Army’s thrift stores or Family Stores, as they are called. As chairman of the thrift store committee, which she created, Rivers was instrumental in the recent opening of the group’s second thrift store in Wake County, says Maj. Stephen Long of the Salvation Army’s Wake County headquarters.
“She’s a firecracker,” Long says, noting Rivers’ energy, dedication and enthusiasm.
The store, which is at 4025 Wake Forest Road in Eastgate Shopping Center, opened for business on March 31 in a space that was once occupied by a for-profit thrift store. About 30,000 items of clothing are for sale at any given time, along with a selection of furniture, housewares and miscellaneous items. The prices are cheap, starting at 99 cents, Rivers says. Most items sell for less than $4.99. Markdowns are frequent.
Revenues from the new store, along with the original shop at 205 Tryon Road, help finance the many social services at the nearby Judy D. Zelnak Center of Hope at 1863 Capital Blvd., including a 92-bed shelter for women and children, a food pantry, a soup kitchen, a dental clinic, parenting workshops and tutoring for children.
Now that the store is open, Rivers hopes to help get it established with both donors and customers. For a thrift store to do well, she says, it has to be convenient for upper-income donors to drop off donations. But at the same time, the store needs core customers from moderate- and lower-income neighborhoods. The Army’s Tryon Road store, situated in a lower-socioeconomic area, is perfect for helping people in need but not so convenient for wealthier members of the public looking to donate, Rivers says.
In contrast, the Wake Forest Road location “seems like a good place for donors as well as shoppers. It’s kind of a sweet spot,” she says. “I”m hoping the rich people of Raleigh will give to our store. There are good donations to be had.”
A thrifter herself
Rivers knows a thing or two about the psychology behind thrift store shopping. She began thrifting at age 12 and still shops second-hand. As she puts it, she loves “the thrill of the hunt.” Among her recent finds: a $9.99 Armani dress with the $770 tag still attached.
Her thrift shop habit is so entrenched, she says, she visits stores while vacationing. “Whenever I travel I like to go to thrift stores,” she says. During a recent trip to the Palo Alto area of California, she says, “I had to buy a piece of luggage to bring it all back.”
It’s not uncommon for her entire outfit to be made up of thrift store finds. On a recent day, she was wearing a pair of black pants, a patterned top, flats and blue earrings. All were thrifted except for the top, which was a gift from an aunt.
Other goals Rivers has in mind include remodeling the Salvation Army’s original thrift store and adding more stores, including locations in Cary and Wake Forest. Long agrees, saying he’d like to see a Cary store open in the next year. “In a county this size there should probably be four or five thrift stores,” Long says.
In 2015, the latest year figures are available, the Salvation Army reported thrift store revenues at $1.1 million, so it’s a promising source of revenue expansion as more stores are opened.
Rivers says she also hopes to bring a little more of a business mentality to the Salvation Army, including a better focus on marketing. “The Army has been good at social services and very bad at marketing and telling its story,” she says.
Just getting off the ground is a program she’s calling Women Warriors, in which female members of the community are invited to lunch or dinner at the Zelnak center and then given tours of the facility to see firsthand the way donations are used. “The idea that women have not been as involved in outreach is something we ought to change.”
Rivers says she doesn’t think the public realizes how far their donations go at the Salvation Army of Wake County. In 2015, the Wake County charity reported $6.3 million in revenues. In total, 104,466 individuals received some sort of help, according to Salvation Army reports. That included providing 90,610 meals and 25,999 nights of shelter, giving 100,680 toys and gifts, and visiting 4,461 senior citizens.
And too often, she says, the public doesn’t know what the Salvation Army is doing behind the scenes. Disaster relief is another big outreach program. During the recent fire in downtown Raleigh, for instance, Salvation Army representatives worked alongside other volunteers to provide help to displaced families. “That’s what we do – take care of our neighbors,” she says.
Lisa Campbell Rivers
Born: June 1969 in Wilson. Family moved to Raleigh when she was 14.
Education: Broughton High School, Raleigh; Bachelor’s degree, UNC-Chapel Hill; Law degree, Campbell University, Buies Creek.
Career: Real estate agent. Member of Salvation Army Advisory Board, along with her father, Tom Campbell, and brother Richard. Member and chairman of Salvation Army’s Thrift Store Committee.
Family: Married to Wayne Rivers, president of Family Business Institute. Two adult children.
Notable: Rivers’ great-great-grandfather, a Baptist preacher, founded Buies Creek Academy, an institution that would later become Campbell University.
Quote: “I’m just one person who cares. Anyone can be that person. It’s an opportunity to actually do things in the community to be a little more hands-on.”