UCLA Health Auxiliary Thrift Shop: 7 decades of good will

Funds raised by the store support diverse patient and hospital needs.
Patty Canales manages the UCLA Health Auxiliary Thrift Shop, where she's worked for 27 years. (Photo by Milo Mitchell)
Patty Canales manages the UCLA Health Auxiliary Thrift Shop, where she's worked for 27 years. (Photo by Milo Mitchell)
4 min read

Patty Canales can repair jewelry, mend clothes and fix furniture — just a few of the skills she’s picked up over her 27 years working at the UCLA Health Auxiliary Thrift Shop.

“She’s like Geppetto,” the magical woodcarver who brought Pinocchio to life, says Kim Failla, executive director of UCLA Health Auxiliary. “The entire staff at the thrift shop are incredibly skilled and dedicated.”

Tucked away on a quiet street just over a mile from Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, this bustling secondhand store has been raising funds for hospital and patient needs since 1955. That was the year the UCLA Health Auxiliary was formed.

The Auxiliary is a nonprofit group of volunteers who support hospital programs and patient needs. With profits raised from the thrift store and the gift shops it operates at UCLA Healths Westwood and Santa Monica medical centers, the Auxiliary has donated more than $11 million to help pay for prescription medications, funeral costs and other patient needs, along with supporting programs such as Tea for the Soul, a support program for medical staff.

The Auxiliary has also purchased equipment for the hospital, including the UCLA Health Bloodmobile and fetal monitors for the obstetrics department.

Growing up in the thrift shop

Canales joined the thrift store staff as a teenager in 1996.

“I love it because every day is different, even though sometimes we see the same customers and the same donors,” she says. “But we always get different donations and it’s just fun, and also rewarding, just knowing where the money goes and who it helps. That’s why I love it.”

The UCLA Health Auxiliary Thrift Shop sells donated items to raise funds for hospital and patient needs. (Photo by Milo Mitchell)
The UCLA Health Auxiliary Thrift Shop sells donated items to raise funds for hospital and patient needs. (Photo by Milo Mitchell)

Canales now manages the store, overseeing a staff of about 10 paid employees and a small group of volunteers. The shop’s inventory is made up entirely of donations. Families sometimes donate a loved one’s entire estate to show appreciation to UCLA Health.

“They’ll call us, and we’ll go to their home and pick up everything we can use — clothing, housewares, electronics, books — pretty much everything as long as it’s in good, sellable condition,” Canales says.

Some of the most memorable donations include a real diamond bracelet, priceless artwork and custom furniture, she says: “We’ve been able to raise a lot of money for the shop.”

In a good year, the thrift store and gift shops combined generate about $1.5 to $2 million in sales, Failla says. “Since the pandemic, proceeds initially took a dip, but now we’re starting to see a positive turn.”

Because the store regularly receives donations of brand-name goods, Canales and her management team have become masters of identifying and pricing luxury items.

“Before smartphones, we used to read magazines, and I’d go to the mall and learn the designer brands — just window shop and learn — because we do get a lot of designer brands here,” she says. “But now what’s really helpful is just Google.”

Fans of designer wares can regularly find Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Hermes at the thrift shop.

Saving the best merchandise for the big events

While name-brand items are available year-round at the thrift shop, Canales and her staff set aside some of the most unusual, coveted and rare goods for the twice-yearly blowout event. Just before the holidays and over the summer, the shop hosts a three-day event showcasing its finest items. The summer celebration is July 19 to 21 (reservations are required).

Leading up to the celebration, Canales and her staff comb through the store’s stockroom, which is crammed floor to ceiling with books, clothing, framed artwork, electronics, toys, games, lamps and other decorative items. Hanging on a wall, atop a calendar with the staff schedule, is an embroidered sweater Canales plans to mend. On the counter nearby lie several earrings, necklaces and bracelets in various states of repair.

Kim Failla is executive director of the UCLA Health Auxiliary. (Photo by Milo Mitchell)
Kim Failla is executive director of the UCLA Health Auxiliary. (Photo by Milo Mitchell)

The shop has amassed so much inventory that it’s spilled over to a vacant shop across the street, which has become a de facto storage unit. Canales walks through the space carefully — a slim path winds through massive amounts of furniture. Chairs and benches sit stacked atop carved tables with ornate legs. Many of these items will be available at the summer event, she says.

The shop’s biannual events draw new customers, some of whom will become regular shoppers.

“We have regulars who come in every day,” Canales says.

Among the regulars is a man named Tim who has been homeless for many years. The thrift shop has been helping him for as long as he’s been in the area.

“He’ll come in maybe once a month and ask if he can get a jacket or some shoes, depending on the weather,” Canales says. “His social worker has come in and said, ‘Thank you for helping him.’ And he’s even told us that if it wasn’t for us, he probably wouldn’t be around anymore.”

To Canales, it’s just part of the thrift shop’s mission: to be a good neighbor and support the community.

Take the Next Step

Learn more about the UCLA Health Auxiliary Thrift Shop.

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