PP 350: Kristiina Miller, Founder and Owner of Garage of Blessings
In 2012, Kristiina found herself unhappily working in a J-O-B. She turned to God for answers, and received the one she least expected….
QUIT (your job).
Listen to hear how the Garage of Blessings started, and where it has grown to today!
NOTE FROM KIM
As the host of the Positive Productivity podcast, I can tell you that every, single guest has provided me with insight and information I needed to hear.
This episode was no different, but I will tell you that it was recorded on one of my most difficult days since launching the podcast in 2016. Kristiina’s message touched me so deeply, that while she was talking, I was on mute, sobbing. (Listen for my sniffles… you will hear them).
Following our recorded conversation, Kristiina and I chatted a little longer, and she provided me exactly the advice I needed, right then…
“Be still and listen.”
And so I did.
By the end of that day, the extreme stress that was wrecking havoc on me and my family was taken care of.
Thank you, Kristiina, for all you did for me and my family, and all you do for thousands of people.
03:47 Matthew 6
06:35 Kristiina quits her job
10:35 Organized chaos
16:42 How Garage of Blessings got its name
18:15 Being blunt with God
19:28 Blessings start coming in for the Garage of Blessings
Kim Sutton: Welcome back to another episode of Positive Productivity. This is your host, Kim Sutton, and I am so happy that you are here to join us today. I’m thrilled to introduce today’s special guest, Kristiina Miller. Listeners, you have heard me talking over the last few weeks about how I found a new show on Facebook, Returning The Favor, and Kristiina was the highlight of one of the first episodes that I watched. And thank you for your episode, I went through a box of tissues. I had no idea what I was getting into. But she is the owner and founder of The Garage of Blessings.
Kristiina, thank you so much for being here. I’ve already thanked you in our pre chat for everything that you do, because it’s just amazing. But for listeners who don’t know who you are and haven’t taken my advice, like five times to watch the series, could you introduce yourself and tell your story to them?
Kristiina Miller: Absolutely. Well, I am Kristiina Miller. If you watched Returning The Favor with I’s after the T, and he micro continuously says throughout the entire thing, it’s Kristiina with two I’s. If you listen to him, it’s quite funny. So anyhow, The Garage Blessings, just right off the bat, just so that you get an idea as I tell the story. If you were to walk into The Garage or Blessings, it would feel kind of like a really big thrift store with every subject that you would find in any normal thrift store. You can shop for anything you need, you can go and just as if you are going into a grocery store, you can shop from clothing to housewares, toys, electronics, crafts, and seasonal supplies. You can even grab a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on the way out. And the neat thing about that is once your arms are full of blessings from The Garage of Blessings, there’s no bill at the end. Basically, everything is free at The Garage of Blessings.
We started The Garage of Blessings, it started in my home garage about early 2012. And a lot of people say to me, oh, that was such a good idea that you started this. And I’m like, this was not my idea, it took a while for this to actually become what it has become. I used to be in property management, and about the last six months of being working for that company, my husband can attest to this, I would come home every day from work at about 5:00 and I would just go lay on the bed. Excuse me, I’m an emotional person, I would cry. And I can remember it now, I would just lay on the bed and cry. I was just so upset that I felt like, here I am. Yes, I have talents in sales and marketing, but I felt like I’m punching this clock here at this business, and I’m doing a great job. I loved my job, but I felt like there was something greater I was supposed to be doing. And that went on for about six months. And during that entire time, I talked to God the whole time. I was very blunt and saying, I don’t know what it is that you’re trying to tell me? I sensed the still small voice speaking to me, but I’m not quite understanding what I’m supposed to be doing.
And about five months into this really agonizing time, I heard that still small voice say to go read some scripture in Matthew 6. And I did. I grab my Bible and started reading Matthew 6, and it talked about, basically, don’t worry about tomorrow. Don’t worry about what you’re going to eat or what you’re going to wear, that he’s going to take care of you. If he takes care of the birds the way he does out there in the fields, I mean, don’t you mean more to him than those birds? Why it meant so much to me was, because during that time, my husband and I were going through a class called Financial Peace University, and we were trying to become debt free. My husband at the time was in the military, in the Navy. And he has since retired after 25 years. But he was in the Navy at the time, and I was working for property management and we needed both of our paychecks to make this dream come true of being debt free.
And so after I read those verses, I heard the still small voice say, quit your job. And I’m like, quit my job? How am I supposed to quit my job before I’m supposed to becoming debt free? We need these two paychecks, and all I kept hearing was quit your job. Quit your job. And I have to tell you, I am so ashamed of what happened next. Here I am, six months time crying out to God, asking him to please talk to me like you talk to those people in the Bible, just talk out loud to me. I want to know what it is that you want me to do. He answers prayer, he has me read Scripture, which is one way that he speaks. And then that still small voice that said, quit your job. And I was ashamed to hear myself starting to negotiate with him. After I asked him to tell me exactly what he wanted me to do, I then turned around, and I started negotiating with God. And how I did that was, I said, quit my job. God, how about, say, I work 40 hours a week, and I’m trying to become debt free. So how about if I give you 20 hours of my time, and I’ll work part time, so at least I still get a paycheck. And it was silent. I was like, because what do you have for me, that’s really gonna take 40 hours of my week. And it was just like, quit your job. So I decided after going back and forth, this negotiation which I wasn’t winning.
I decided to talk my husband about it when he came home from work. I told him what had happened and I said, I think I have to quit my job. And his answer to that was, you know what? You need to do what you need to do. And so that evening, I wrote my letter of resignation. That morning, I went and put it on their desk and worked the whole day. And then it was about the last hour of the day when my boss called me in and sit down. I’m like, yes. And he said: “Is everything okay?” And I said: “Yeah, everything’s fine.” I think he was asking because he’s reading this letter. They may be thinking they did something, or what can we change to keep you, or whatever it might be. And he said: “So if everything’s fine, why this letter? Why are you leaving?” And I looked at him, and this is the only answer I could give him because I had no other answer. I looked at him and I said: “Because God said so.” He looked at me, and he said: “I can’t argue with that.”
Kim Sutton: Wow.
Kristiina Miller: So I gave my two weeks at that point, my last day of work was a Friday, the last Friday of october of 2011. And I was so excited that I was falling what I was supposed to be doing. I had no idea what was going to be coming on Monday, as far as I was concerned. Now that I’ve quit my job, I’m free to do exactly what I was called to do. And so I was so excited all weekend long for Monday, because I knew Monday would come and I would have answers about why all this agony in the last six months. And Monday came, and I got ready for the day. I was like, okay, God, here I am. And nothing. I was like, well, maybe it’s just not time yet today. So I waited and I just kept asking, I said: “I’ve done what you’ve asked me to do. So I’m ready. Here I am.” And nothing. Well, Monday past that week, past 2, 3, 4 weeks passed, and nothing. I started becoming upset coz I quit my job, because that’s what I believed you told me to do. And yet, you have not followed up on your side and told me what it is that I was quitting my job for. Now, I have no paycheck. Now, we have one paycheck, how are we supposed to become debt free. So I was a little upset. I decided, you know what? If you’re not going to talk to me, then I’m going to go knock on some doors, and I’m going to go find what it is that I was supposed to be doing.
So I went and I started knocking on doors of nonprofit organizations here in town. I walked into the organizations and I said: “Hi, my name is Kristiina Miller, and I have a background in sales and marketing. And I was wondering if by any chance there was someone here that I could talk to about using my skills for you guys to benefit your organization free of charge so maybe I can help get more people to know about your organization, or maybe help fundraise, or whatever it might be. What can I do to help?” And they would look at me and they’re like, wait, again, what is it that you want to do? And I got this, 2, 3 and 4 times at every organization I went to, and that’s pretty discouraging. I’m picking here, I have a skill set and nobody wants it free of charge. So finally, the last place I went to knocked on the door, went inside, introduced myself and she said, I don’t have anybody here right now to talk to you. But if you want to go ahead and put your name and phone number down on this piece of paper, I’ll give it to the right person. So I’m like, great, this must be it. So I wrote down my name and number, I handed it to her and turned around to walk out the door. And I got the sense and I turned back around, I looked at her and I said: “You’re not going to give that to anybody are you?” And she looked at me and she said: “Quite honestly, I wouldn’t even know who to give it to.” And I said: “Don’t worry about it, just go ahead and throw it away.”
So then, I decided, you know what? If nobody wants to use me in my talents, then I’m going to figure out what it is that I enjoy doing, and I’m going to go do it. And so I decided to go. I love to organize messes, organize chaos and stuff so I started a social media page called Organized Chaos. And I put myself out there and I said: “If anybody has a room, or a closet, or a pantry, or a kitchen, or garage, or whatever it might be that needs organizing, maybe you keep walking past it and you’re trying not to look because you just can’t handle that part of your house, let me come and help you make it perfect, and it’s free of charge.” And so I ended up being booked out six weeks in advance. And so I was going out every single day, cleaning people’s homes, not cleaning like a cleaning lady, but organizing and helping them get rid of things they didn’t need, and so on, and so forth. But six weeks into that, I got a phone call from a lady and she said: “I was wondering how big of a job would you do?” And I said: “It doesn’t matter, I’ll do anything.” And she said: “Well, I have a double car garage. I was wondering if you could help me get through it.” And so I said: “Absolutely.”
So I went and took a look at it. And sure enough, it was a double car garage that was full from top to bottom and side to side. It took me two eight hour days, a Saturday and a Sunday to organize the entire thing with the help of her family and herself to make decisions about getting rid of things. By the time we were done, we had about six truckloads of items that she was willing to get rid of. And I said: “Well, now that you have space in your garage, let’s take your items, put them in the corner here on Monday. You call that donation truck that drives around, and they’ll come pick it up free of charge, and then you’re good to go.” And she said: “Can’t do that.” And I said: “Why not?” And she said: “If I do that, I’m gonna end up picking at it and putting it all back where it was.” And I’m like, Oh, no, no. So I offered, I said: “Your family’s here. How about we take it to my garage, and all wait for the truck on Monday to come pick it all up. I’ll give them a call from Monday morning.” And she said: “That’s great.” So her whole family took about six car and truck loads over to my home garage, and we unloaded it. And then she was grateful.
And that evening, I started looking through some of the items. I mean, there were boxes that were open that you can actually just see inside. So I was kind of peeking in there, and I just noticed notice things that I thought, there’s people out there that could use this stuff. And so with her permission, I asked her, I said: “Would you mind if I gave your stuff away?” And she said: “Do whatever you want.” So I thought okay, so I set up my garage, my two car home garage into kind of like a garage sale, and I ended up going on to my social media page where people were following me for Organized Chaos. And I said: “Hey, I just did cleaned out someone’s garage, here’s pictures of items that she’s willing to give away. It’s all set up and ready to go. Come in the morning, and it’s all yours.” And in the morning, there was a line at my door. So people were lined up at my door to shop free of charge. And so I opened up my garage and people were shopping. She had enough stuff to be able to last two and three days. And so it continued on for two or three days. About the third day, someone said to me that was shopping in the garage. She said: “Do you do this all the time?” And I said: “Oh, no, no, no, no.” And she said: “Well, if I brought my stuff, would you give it away?” And I said: “Well, the tables are already set up. Why not?” So she brought her stuff. And next thing you know, she must have told somebody because I would wake up in the morning and there were donations at my door. I’d pick up my daughter from school, come back home and there’d be donations underneath the eve of the garage. And that’s how donations were born.
Kim Sutton: What did your husband say to this? Because I know my husband, he would be like, we have enough stuff already. But at the same time. I have to tell you when you shared about Matthew 6, like tears in my eyes because we are going through our own life situation right now. Listeners, I’ll share in a future episode when we get everything worked out. But thank you, because I pulled out my Bible when you brought that up. I’m going to add to it, it will be open on my desk for the rest of the day. I was traveling for business last week. And while I was playing, Field of Dreams was one of the movies that we could watch, and I was thinking, it’s God’s way of saying, if you build it, they will come. But you don’t know what you’re building. The same as Field of Dreams where Kevin Costner, his wife says, okay, that’s what my husband would do. That’s what your husband did. Okay, so going back, all these people are dropping stuff off at your house, what does your husband think about this?
Kristiina Miller: Well, he works during the day, but he’d come home to me sorting in the garage. And then I would say: “Could you help me? I had so many donations to sort through.” And then he was just like, Well, okay. So he couldn’t park in the garage anymore after a while. But yeah, he would help my daughter who at the time, I don’t remember exactly how old she was in 2000, early 2012. But she has autism and has mild cerebral palsy, and also is moderately mentally delayed. So I could have her with me and teach her how to sort and put things on tables, and so on, and so forth. And then she’d be a part of when people would come shopping. So it became a family thing. We’re going now two, three weeks into this. And all of a sudden, somebody walks up to me and says: “Do you need help?” And I said: “Yes. Would you do me a favor, grab one of those bags over there, go sit on the grass, sort it and then put it all out.” And the people just kept coming with donations and people coming to help. And that’s how volunteers were born. So we have donations being born, volunteers were just now born. And then maybe four to six weeks into it, I was in my garage, just standing in the corner, just watching people shop and wondering how this stuff continues to multiply upon itself, because people were walking out with arms full of blessings. And it was like they weren’t making a dent in any of it.
And there were so many people in my garage that I heard two women speaking, and I, to this day, I don’t know who they are, I just remember the voices. I heard one say to the other, this is like a garage full of blessings. And a hit me. This is it. This is what I’m supposed to be doing. I just the need of tangible items that people come into my home, people were coming to my home, and you can see somebody’s looking at something, and then all of a sudden, they start talking to the person next to them who they don’t know. And they may start saying, well, I was hoping that Kristiina had this in her garage. And then the person would be like, well, she doesn’t, but I have that. I can give that to you. And then people started giving to each other.
Kim Sutton: Oh, I’ve got goosebumps.
Kristiina Miller: Well, within four months, we completely outgrew my home garage. I tell folks that we actually completely outgrew my entire neighborhood because of the traffic that was coming through just to come to my place. So I started praying. And at that point, I couldn’t do Organized Chaos anymore. So that was done. And that double car garage that I did for that lady, that was the last thing I did for my little social media page. And I thought to myself, well, God, if this is what I’m supposed to be doing, then you’re going to find a place that we can fit because there’s obviously a need here. And I prayed and prayed. And oh, by the way, God, since this was your idea and you made all this happen, if we do find a place, you’re gonna have to pay the rent. Because remember, you took away my paycheck.
Kim Sutton: How do you think God likes blunt because I might have to try that tactic.
Kristiina Miller: I grew up in foster care and was homeless for some time. So a lot of that time, I was very blunt. It says in the Bible that he’s our father, he’s the father to the fatherless. And so I treated him like my dad, or a dad. I didn’t have a dad, I know how they treat. But as far as I’m concerned, I would want him to be blunt with me. And I think that’s what I prayed in those six months of crying out to him saying, just speak to me. You’re my dad, just talked to me. And so in this time of outgrowing my home garage, I said: “You know what? You did this. So if we’re moving and we find a place, you’re gonna have to pay the rent because I don’t have the money.” And we ended up being blessed with a 1500 square foot industrial garage. I started asking people to give, financially to help us keep the doors open and the lights on, and people started giving. I realized at that point, and then people started asking for tax receipts, and then I realized that this needs to become so that I can do that a nonprofit organization.
So we did file the paperwork to become a nonprofit and do all of the necessary things we had to do. But within four months in that 1500 square foot industrial garage, we outgrew it. And within four months, we outgrew it into the next bay, which is an additional 1500 square feet. So we went into 3000 square feet within four months. Well, that only lasted nine months, I believe. And then we outgrew 3000 square feet. Nine months, grew into 3600 square feet. Outgrew that in four months, moved into 4000 square feet. Finally, we had a lease on paper, we could stay. And I thought 4000 square feet was enough. And we had a lease that was a nonrenewable lease. So I had to really pray that God would provide. I mean, there wasn’t big enough places here in my city to just have an open floor plan of store. Oh, my goodness, I have learned that God is a last minute God. He does to test us and to say, you know what? You said you would follow, and so you’re going to follow me all the way to the end. So you think you’re about to gonna drop off, and then I’m going to show you that you can walk, like walk on water. And so we’d pray and pray. We were at a point towards the end of our lease that we had about six weeks left before The Garage Of Blessings will shut down altogether as an organization because we had nowhere to go. Make a long story short, God provided at the very end. A landlord who said, You know what? I don’t want to rent, I want to sell. But there’s something about you and what you do that I’m willing to be your landlord. And he opened up his building, a 4000 square feet, we moved into that in June of 2017.
So about one year ago, we moved into that building. In November of 2017 is when you had mentioned Returning The Favor might grow, came and surprise The Garage of Blessings. By opening up, there was this particular industrial garage that we’re in is made into three equal portions, we only rented two of those portions. And if you watch the show, you’ll see me walking through a door into a third portion which he fixed up really wonderfully with his team of people and our community. And that gave us another some more square footage. And so we ended up going from about 4000 square feet to approximately 6000 square feet. I’ve had an opportunity to go back to our old two car home garage back where we used to live and just stand there, look at it and be like, wow, wow. I mean, wow, our housewares section couldn’t even fit in there anymore. And so here we are, we were blessed with now a total of 6000 square feet in november of 2017. I’m sure you probably get our story continues to remain the same, we outgrew it again.
And it just took a few weeks for us to outgrow that particular space. I just started praying and I said, Lord, and believe me this entire time from just the 1500 square feet to 3000, 3600, 4000, 6000, every single time, God has used people in this community, people I don’t know, businesses to help pay the rent. I have never had to dig into my own pocket to help pay the rent for The Garage of Blessings. He has kept his promise when he said that he would take care of it. And one thing that I hadn’t mentioned to you is two years after I quit my job, my husband and I became debt free on one paycheck.
Kim Sutton: Oh, my god.
Kristiina Miller: So again, that reminds me back in Matthew when he said, I will take care of it. I’ll tell you what I was telling someone yesterday, I walked by faith every single day in everything that I do, because I have learned my lesson in the last six years that everything has always worked out. I’m not saying everything’s always been positive. I mean, yes, I have fallen down and I hurt myself, and things like that. But I can see the reasons for everything. Now, as I look back and remember when I was negotiating with God and I said, I’ll give you 20 hours of my time a week and then I’ll work the other 20 hours. And when I said to him, what is it that you have for me that’s gonna last 40 hours a week. I mean, seriously, how am I going to volunteer 40 hours a week? Well, here we are six years later, I give over 60 hours of my time each week to The Garage of Blessings, whether it’s working at the garage, or doing all the administrative work that I do, talking to folks like yourself and just spending the time spreading news about the garage. I realized after we outgrew our 6000 square feet, and I’m telling people to pray. And they’re like, at what point are you going to stop growing? And I said: “I don’t know. Coz I don’t know what God has planned.”
Kim Sutton: Stop growing. Wow. Yes, you’re returning the favor, and it’s not just like local anymore. It’s like bang.
Kristiina Miller: And the thing is, even prior to Returning The Favor, The Garage of Blessings has serve Kenya, the Philippines and Mexico. So we’ve become international even prior to Returning The Favor. And we continue to serve folks in those countries. So here I am, we are in April 2018, almost a year into this building. I’m like, people are coming again to donate items, and I’m having to reject items because I can’t fit them in the building. I can’t fit all the shoppers and all the volunteers, and all of the tangible items in the building without it being chaotic. And I’m not about chaos, so I’ve been praying. I take my daughter to the school bus every morning, and we are a little devotional. And every time it’s my turn to pray, I cry and I’m like, Lord, you know what I’m going to talk to you about so you need to figure this out. Because obviously, there’s something greater to be done in the city. And I love that song God of The City. So there’s greater things that have yet to come and greater things are still to be done here. So you’re going to have to get me to fit.
And just in the last week, I contacted somebody that contacted over a year ago about a building here in Oak Harbor that had been vacant for quite some time. And when I’d contacted them over a year ago, they said they had no interest in doing anything because they just didn’t have the funds to rehab it or anything like that. And so they were fine with it just sitting there. And that was over a year ago. I just got the prompting to find him again, find that email and respond to it again over a year later to ask him, hey, it’s me again. I was just wondering if you thought about it in the last year. And he wrote back and said, we want to talk to you. And I’m like, oh, alrighty. And he said: “I would like to get you in contact with our VP of operations. He’ll be calling you, and we have an offer for you.” And I’m like, What? I’m like, okay, sure enough. The VP of operations called me and he said: “What we would like to do is we’ve had the opportunity to fix the roof, clean the outside and get the outside looking good. But the inside needs some help, and it needs somebody like you with a community following for people to come and give of their time and their talents to bring life back to the building.” And I said: “Okay.” And he said: “So what we would like to do is offer you this 10,000 square foot building in return for you to rehab the inside the way that you would want it, and that would be your rent.”
Kim Sutton: Wow.
Kristiina Miller: Here I am trying to be professional on the phone with this VP, and I’m like silent because I have tears rolling down my face and I can’t quite speak yet. And he’s like, hello. And I told him: “I have to be honest with you, I’m very emotional. You have no idea how God is using you right now. And in my life, and in the life of what is this community is going to be when we’re able to change this building and bring life and love to it.” This building has been vacant for eight years. So that was just in the last week. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to walk through it and I was absolutely beside myself looking at, I’m a visual person so I can already visualize the end of what it would look like when it’s all done. And what was so neat about walking through it. And then speaking to him afterwards, I got two contacts contacted me yesterday. One said: “We’re command from the military where we live in Whidbey Island.” Which is a military community. “We have a command here that we have about 25 Navy personnel that would like to know if we can give of our time to you for the day to do any project that you need.”
Kim Sutton: And they contacted you?
Kristiina Miller: Yeah. And I said: “What would you guys think about helping us get out a building?” And they’re like, yeah. I’m like, You’re kidding me. I call the VP of operations, and I had asked him. I said: “Hey, what’s your timeframe on all this?” And he said: “Probably a little over a month.” And I said, about a week, and I told him why. I said: “I have 25 men that can help you got your building.” Because there’s still stuff in there that they have own that they need to take elsewhere. And I said: “There’s 25 strong people that can help you.” And he was like, I’m in.
And then yesterday, a real estate agent came to The Garage of Blessings and said: “Can I talk to you for a second?” I’m like, yeah. She said: “Every year on May 10, all of our real estate companies across the nation, I’ll do a community service day, and there’ll be about 20 of us. So we were wondering if we could come and serve you for an eight hour day, whatever it is that you need, we’ll do it.” And I was like, You kidding me? And so I had to take her outside because the volunteers still don’t know what’s going on. And I had to privately tell her, yes, I could use your help. And I told her a little bit about the building. What it needed. And I said, the week before, I’ve got 25 military men coming in on May 3. You’re a week after, you could come in. Do you think you guys could come in and help clean. Once they’ve stripped it, you guys can help clean it out and prep it for paint and flooring? And she was like, absolutely. We’ll even paint the whole thing for you. And whatever supply you need, we’ll getit. And if you have a garden there, we’ll do the beauty bark and all the flowers. And I’m like, What?
So I am completely beside myself. But you know what some people say to me, that is so unbelievable. I look at them and I say, You know what? No, it isn’t the way the last six years have been. Nothing is unbelievable anymore. I believe at all, I totally believe it. I mean, if you were to tell me that the empty lot next to this building is also going to become ours for extra parking, I believe it. I don’t even say unbelievable anymore. Actually, say that on my voicemail right now at the end of when people call me, have an unbelievable day. You know what? I need to change that because people need to believe. And I’m telling you, and I believe it. It says in the Bible, when you believe, when you have faith, things are moving. I am getting so excited here. I have a little cross that has a little mustard seed in it, and I wear that and I’m like, that’s all I need. That’s all I need, that little mustard seed. And that’s all I had. Now, here I am six years later, going into 10,000 square feet. The Garage of Blessings currently, and I’m sure this will change, currently serves over 3500 people a month. We currently taking over 750 individual car and truck loads of donations. That’s not 750 bags that come through, that’s into the spot to donate. Whether it’s one bag, or 10 bags, or if it’s a U-Haul. That’s one. And The Garage of Blessings, well, what’s so special? I mean, you give free stuff away. It isn’t just about the tangible stuff anymore.
Six years later, The Garage of Blessings is literally saving lives. We’ve had people come through the door saying, this place is like a place of hope. There’s something about when you walk through the door of this place, it just makes your shoulders just relax, and you’re accepted by everybody. Doesn’t matter if you haven’t had a shower in three months, or you just got out of your Mercedes, it doesn’t matter. Everybody is treated the exact same. People have come through and said, Kristiina, I was contemplating suicide this morning, and here I am. The garage has changed that mindset. I personally have sat on the carpet on the floor with people at the garage. We’re just in a ball just in tears. I can’t do this anymore. And the garage volunteers, we all come together to just lift them up. I’m not talking literally, but just their spirits. And they’re the ones that literally lift themselves up off the floor and say, You know what? I can, and there’s purpose. So the garage is providing tangibly and intangible things. Things you just can’t get, it’s all found there. And that’s why I think that, what I believe, the garage continues to do what it’s doing. Then it continues to touch so many people because there are greater things to come for the city. I mean, here we are, a small town turns out, when people come through the door and they’re looking around, they have the look of, I’ve never been here before. So we asked them how they are, and where they come from, and how they hear about us. And turns out we’re serving folks all the way from Bellingham, Washington down to Tacoma. And that is a huge strip of Interstate.
I have to tell you a quick funny story. We’re overflowing with incoming donations, and I’m not telling people to stop. I tell them, keep bringing them because the more you bring, the more we give. And one day, the UPS man drove up to our Garage of Blessings, and I mentioned to one of my volunteers, I said: “They’re probably delivering to the business that used to be here before he unloads. Can you just make sure that it’s not for the business that used to be here, and that they moved.” And so she went up to him and she said: “Just want to make sure that you don’t unload anything from the previous business.: No, this says Garage of Blessings. And that was the first time we ever got a UPS delivery. We looked at where it came from, and it turns out that we’re getting donations from California. People are sending us their clothes from California.
Kim Sutton: Oh, my heavens. I need to tell you that you are the first episode that I’ve cried on.
Kristiina Miller: I cry all the time.
Kim Sutton: So do I. I’ve never cried on the episode before. I have not stepped foot in The Garage of Blessings, but it’s blessing me today, because your whole message is exactly what I needed to hear today.
Kristiina Miller: Good. Yeah. Every time I get to tell my story, it just strengthens me and reminds me that what I’m doing is what I’m supposed to be doing. What if, I think to myself, what if I did not listen to that still small voice? What if I was so committed to becoming debt free on two paychecks that I said, You know what? No, I’m not going to quit my job, I’m going to do this because I want to be debt free. The garage wouldn’t exist today. I would never would have gone into people’s homes and clean their chaos. This lady never would have called me. But still, even in the midst of all that, the garage did happen. And like I mentioned earlier, he also allowed us to become debt free on one paycheck. And six years later, we live debt free. And so it’s just been believable. I was gonna say unbelievable. But yeah, I believe it all now. I mean, you can’t tell me anything I don’t believe. It’s so powerful.
I even said, this is how I said it to my pastor this last Sunday, I looked at him and I said: “Pastor, God is so freakin faithful.” And I started crying. I said: “I can’t handle this sometimes, there’s just so much, he’s so faithful. I’m so overwhelmed by his faithfulness.” I just have to tell him, ometimes, just give me some breathing room here. But man, he pours it on. He pours it on, and I am overflowing. And it’s exciting. I’m so glad to be a part of The Garage of Blessings. We now have over 40 rotating volunteers, and we have different services at the garage. Now, as far as we have a professional life coach that comes in and serves every Wednesday with people that need to talk to somebody in any direction. We have our peanut butter and jelly kitchen where folks can come in if they’re hungry and just make themselves a sandwich and coffee or hot water. And I decided to become a notary so that I could do free notary service to people that can’t afford notary services.
Kim Sutton: That’s amazing.
Kristiina Miller: I heard somebody story about, they were looking for somebody that could hopefully help them with some cake mix for their kid’s birthday coz they couldn’t even afford that. And you know what? I’m going to find a spot at The Garage of Blessings and make a birthday bookcase where you’ve got all the cake mixes and frostings to choose from, and plates, and all of the party supplies. And so now, we have that. And all of the items are supplied by the community. When I say, hey, community, I’m running out of frosting. Next thing you know, I get 20 bags. But there’s just so many different things that the garage does to give back, and we’re not done. And now, with more square footage, my wheels are turning and I’m like, alright, I am ready. We’re ready to start teaching classes.
Now that we have some additional space that’s on our list of things to do, but right now, what we need, people may hear, oh, well, you don’t have any rent now. You’re good to go. Actually, no, the building needs rehab. And our promise back to this company that is allowing us to use their building is to fix it. It needs help. The windows need to be redone. There’s a lot of broken windows. The flooring needs to be redone. It needs to be painted. Doorways are unfinished. Just several little things like that. Well, some of them aren’t so little. But now, what I need and what I’m going to be asking for is the help of the community to come in and put their hand on this building so that when they drive by, they can say, oh, you see that paint job over there. I had a hand in that. Are you see those windows all shiny now. Yeah, I had a hand in that. Or you see those flowers all coming out of the ground and the bark, I had a hand in that. My heart’s desire is that this building becomes, belongs to the community. Yes, it’ll be The Garage of Blessings, but I want the community to get involved so that they can point at it and say, I had a part in that story.
Kim Sutton: I have to ask, how are you planning on painting it, because I see handprints of the people who actually did have a hand,
Kristiina Miller: See, now you got my wheel. I love that idea. I love that. And something that you just triggered me again was two buildings ago, we had a wall of gratitude. And we had a big thing of colorful Sharpie markers and people could write on the wall what they think, or what the garage means to them. And so I’m thinking that on one side, people could just write, and people were writing, I mean, you should see the hundreds of notes all over the wall. It was very tastefully done by people, just putting their comments and their testimony.
And I think one of the comments that got me the most was a daughter that wrote down. I remember seeing this on the wall, she wrote down that she dedicated The Garage of Blessings to her mom, and she put it in there, Rest in Peace mom. And I asked her about that. She said, my mom used to shop here. She loved coming here, but she died of cancer. And I’m just like, wow, the walls are talking. And now to put like, what you’re saying, people’s handprints and to say, I had a hand in this here. And literally, here’s my hand. Oh, my goodness, gracious. Yeah, I’m gonna do that. And I’m going to send a picture to you.
Kim Sutton: Please.
Kristiina Miller: Oh, my goodness, I gotta write this down because I am so excited.
Kim Sutton: I can see all colorful finger paints, they would have to stay on walls. People can wash it off.
Kristiina Miller: Wow.
Kim Sutton: The dogs even chiming. In 2010, I left an abusive marriage. I remember being on Craigslist looking for anything, they could get me started because we don’t have a Garage of Blessings in Troy, Ohio. We have consignment shops, but we don’t have that. I felt so desperate. I remember going to the food pantry and getting food because I had a job that didn’t pay much. And I cried my way through, because I actually didn’t feel like I deserved to be there. Because even though I had a home, I had a nice income, a stable income base department, I had a minimum wage paying job, but I felt like there’s so many other people who are worse off than I am. But I also was a single mom of two little boys, and I remember just crying my way through thinking how blessed I was. And I just know, you really are a blessing. I can’t wait to see how much bigger. Because while I normally like to ask on these episodes where do you see yourself going, who knows? He is amazing. Maybe you will have one in Troy, Ohio.
Kristiina Miller: There are folks that walk through the doors that feel the exact same way that you did back then. They’ll donate items, and then I’ll say, well, come on in and see if there’s something here that you can find. Like oh, no, no, no, that’s okay. And you know that some feel that way that they don’t deserve to go in there. And I’m like, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t believe that God ever pointed out people and said, You know what? You deserve a blessing. You deserve a blessing. Well, you don’t deserve a blessing. You deserve a blessing. We’re all deserve a blessing no matter how big or small it is. And in all times of our life, whether we’re up or down, there could be nothing wrong going on in life right now. Everything is looking great. Things are going awesome. You still deserve a blessing during that time. Just because everything is going great doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve that.
I had somebody ask me once, how come you don’t just make people work just a little bit for their blessing? And I was like, what? And he said: “Well, for instance, if they are coming for a TV, why don’t you have them do a little bit of community service so that they can get that TV?” I looked at him and I said: “Can I ask a question?” He’s like, yeah. And I said: “You had kids?” He said: “Yep.” And I said: “Have your kids ever come up to you and said, Daddy, do you think that you could get this for me? Or Daddy, I really liked this? Do you think the first thing you would think to do is you’re going to work for it? Or do you think that everything in your heart would make you do what you could do to get that for them? And I’m not saying spoil them, it could just be something so simple as a book or whatever it might be. I mean, honestly, do you believe that you would make your kids work for every single blessing? Or do you just want to just pour it out on them because you love them that much?” Well, I think he got the picture that we don’t ask for anything in return at the garage. We don’t ask for people to work for their blessings. We don’t ask for monetary donations. We don’t ask for them to show us what they have on their way out. If they find blessings within the garage, it was meant for them, and they need to take it.
We’re at a point now where folks are coming out with one shirt. And I’m like, is that all you found? They’re like, well, we just want to save for others. And I’m like, you need to turn around, go back in there and get 10 more. Because I’m telling you, the more you take, the more we’re blessed. And it’s like the loaves and the fishes. I’m telling you, I see people walking out with armfuls of clothing gets hit the hardest with The Garage of Blessings. And I see people walking out with armfuls of clothing. And then I walk into the garage part and I’m like, where did they take it from? Because I just don’t see a dent. And it just keeps multiplying, and going out the door, and then coming in the door, and it’s never ending. And no, I don’t have any clue what’s in store for The Garage of Blessings. At this point, wherever he leads, I’ll follow, And I’m not negotiating anymore, I’m just gonna do what I’m told. I have a card right above my desk here. And there are times, believe it or not, that I become really down.
Unfortunately, I do suffer some depression. I have a card that somebody gave me that I have here on my bulletin board, that is just a reminder to me when I’m feeling down. Or if I feel like, am I really doing enough? It says, I probably would have died without this place. Thank you so much. And I read that and I’m just like, another life saved. And so I take a deep breath and I’m like, you know what? I’m going to keep going. And I’m going to keep going. And like I said, here we are, over six years later, and I don’t see an end to this. And we’re so excited. I hope that people with talent, that have talents as being handyman or handy woman or what, anybody, this is the help we’re going to need right now. What I’m seeking and hoping that people will just come with their talents and say, what can I do? And that this place just becomes, again, it’s been vacant for eight years, but just almost a light in this community, and that it shines so bright that people from other communities are coming to see what in the world is going on. And that way, that’s what’s happening now. But I want to reach to go even farther.
Kim Sutton: Right. So with that said, where are you located, and how can people reach out to you so that they can get involved and offer their gifts to help The Garage of Blessings.
Kristiina Miller: We’re located in Oak Harbor, Washington. We’re on Whidbey Island which is a Naval Air Station. And our website, www.garageofblessings.com, has our physical address for now, but that’s where they can come and visit. So the physical address will, obviously, automatically be updated quickly as soon as any changes are made. But our peel box is also listed on our website, our peel box 115 here in Oak Harbor, that’s where we get all of our mail, except when the UPS van comes with people’s donations to our door. But our phone numbers on our website and our services button that shows everything that we do, and I do my best to catch up with people that write and ask questions and just need encouragement. And sometimes, people just write because they need someone to listen. And yeah, I don’t have all the answers, but I can offer encouragement, especially from what I’ve been through.
Some people say to me, how is it that you feel for these people? I’m learning, I’ve been reading this book about empathy, like empaths, and how you feel people and their energy. And if they hurt, you hurt. And if they have joy, you have joy. I touched on it briefly. I was homeless from ages 11 to 15, and that had shaped me of who I am today to be able to feel some of these homeless folks that are coming through the door, and just know exactly what it feels like to put my feet in their shoes and walk in them. I became a foster kid from 16 to 18, and was in two foster homes during that time. So I understand that too. When you get kids coming in that won’t make eye contact, don’t want to speak and they’re really cold, I understand that too. Because at that point in my life, I was like, I don’t think anybody cares, so I don’t care either.
Kim Sutton: Wow. I didn’t even think about that. You are serving all age ranges. Above my monitor, I actually have taped Galatians 6:9, let’s not get tired of doing good. Because in time, we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up. And I know it’s tough sometimes.
Kristiina Miller: Yeah. Just Sunday at church, the Pastor talked about, if you reap sparingly, that’s exactly what you’re gonna get back. But if you put everything that you have out there, when it starts growing and coming back to you, it’s an abundance. And I totally believe that. I see that every day. I get to see miracles happen every single day at The Garage of Blessings. I mean, I get to see them every single day, and I get to be a part of them. People come up to me every time I’m there. Can I tell you what’s going on in my life right now? And can I tell you my testimony on how the garage did . One older lady comes up to me and she’s like, look at me, everything I’m wearing today is from The Garage of Blessings. And I said, alright. The thing is, this stuff has a lot of stuff that is really, really nice. It’s not just thrift store items. I mean, we’re getting stuff in there with brand new wood tags, and we believe everyone deserves all that stuff. So we still don’t take furniture.
In Returning the Favor, you’ll notice he gave us that portion for furniture. But what we needed for more than furniture was just to be able to spread out our sorting room more because of the incoming donations. We’re exceeding the capacity where we had them before. Now, the donations are exceeding the capacity of the new space he gave us, literally the donations, especially the bags, I think they’re 12 foot ceilings are touching the ceiling. We’re trying to get through the donations as fast as we can. We always could use more volunteers to help come and sort, and just be a part of what’s going on at the garage. It’s so neat. It’s not just the shoppers that come through The Garage of Blessings that are being moved, changed and being filled with hope. But talk to some of the volunteers, or all the volunteers that volunteer there and you ask them, how is the garage changed them. It has changed every volunteer’s life there. And it’s really neat to have our volunteers last for years, just because they just can’t get enough. And just see them growing out of their depression and then deciding, I’m going to start serving others so that I can stop looking at my own pitiful self. We have so much fun. We are a family.
I didn’t have a family growing up because I was homeless for a while. And even prior to being homeless, I really didn’t have a family and no relationship with my parents. But now, well, I’d look at what God has given me at The Garage of Blessings. Not just a home, I feel like the garage is my second home. But he’s given me over 40 people now as a part of my family, a part of my story. All these volunteers that are now. My oldest volunteer is 83 years old, and she’s like a grandma to me. She’ll put me into shape, and she’ll tell me where to go. Ones that are my age, and then some that are younger. I have a huge family. I love it.
Kim Sutton: Amazing. Kristiina. I just want to make sure that I’m giving the right URL, garageofblessings.com, so that people can go and visit, and that’s where they find your address. And that’s where they get in touch, because I can hear people just thinking right now, how do I do it?
Kristiina Miller: garageofblessings.com. And if I could answer that, I don’t get all 50 emails with the same question, but I do get people asking how do I start this here. And the easiest way is look at what you have, maybe you have something, something that you give one away. Gather those items together, you may not have a garage, maybe you have a carport, or maybe you have a room in your house, or whatever it might be, maybe you have a front yard, a gazebo, anything, where you take those items, and you let people know, I want to share my stuff with people that have a need. And if there’s anybody out there that would like to help share with me, if you have items you’d like to give away, let’s do this together on this day. And let’s bless people out there that can’t afford this stuff. And let’s give it away. And that’s how you start.
Kim Sutton: Listeners, if you’re going to do that, I would love to hear and would love to share the message on my Facebook page and help you get the word out. So be sure to visit the show notes page at thekimsutton.com/pp350, and I will do what I can to help share your daily blessings with my community.
Kristiina Miller: Even if you don’t have, like I said, a garage or anything like that, someone wrote to me and took a picture of, she had some comforters in a bag and she put them on her curb with a note. She wrote to me, I don’t have a garage. But she goes, I do have a curb of blessings.
Kim Sutton: I love it. That is so amazing. I just want to thank you again for everything that you’re doing and for sharing your message. To say that I needed your message today, even though I already knew it would be an understatement, so thank you so much for everything that you do. Do you have a parting piece of advice or a golden nugget that you can offer to listeners?
Kristiina Miller: If you’re struggling with something and you hear that still small voice, I’m telling you, obey it even if you think it’s an absolutely crazy idea, or whatever it might be. Well, that’s how The Garage of Blessing started by listening to that still small voice and being obedient to that voice. Whatever you feel that voice is. And if it weren’t for me listening to that still small voice, we wouldn’t be serving over 4000 people today in a month, we wouldn’t be serving Kenya, Mexico, the Philippines, and now being known across the nation. And all because I decided to listen.