By Patricia Case
Thanks to a little redemptive recycling, the jeans that a 13-year-old girl outgrew this year are helping a local single mom move her family off the street.
While it sounds like economic alchemy, converting used jeans into security for a struggling family is exactly what founders imagined when they established Chalice Thrift, the new outreach ministry of First Christian Church of Decatur, Ga. (FCCD).
“It’s not magic. It’s mission,” said Doug Schuette, a local architect and a member of First Christian, who helped shepherd the thrift store from a dream to a three-days-a-week retail reality. “Arguably, a pair of jeans that a teenager only wore a couple of times really can fuel a little redemption.”
Here’s how it works: Olivia outgrew her new jeans before she had the chance to even wear them more than once. Her parents dropped these gently used items off at Chalice Thrift shortly after the church asked for donations.
A few days later, someone bought the jeans from the thrift store. That income, along with sales of dozens of other donations, quickly generated sufficient funds for Chalice Thrift to make a $500 gift to Hagar’s House.
Hagar’s House, a program of Decatur Cooperative Ministries that helps homeless families become self-reliant, converted the unexpected donation into a number of unbudgeted items, including gas cards for clients.
One of the gas cards helped a young mom fill the tank of her car, so she could get to her new job. The new job is empowering the mom to support her young family, which only weeks earlier had been living on the street.
“We were excited to receive Chalice Thrift’s first gift,” said DCM Executive Director, Beth Vann-Turnbull. “Obviously, it’s a community-business enterprise, motivated by faith, dedicated to service to the community. Chalice Thrift is a fun place to shop, but it’s taking those proceeds and using them to a greater good.”
Space: A Ministry Frontier
But the redemption really started even before Olivia outgrew her jeans, according to Schuette. It started when First Christian lost an important tenant of the church building.
Georgia Center for Children had remodeled and occupied half of the large church basement for their work in counseling and interviewing child abuse survivors. It was a program that was highly compatible with FCCD’s outreach mission in Decatur. By helping the organization with affordable space, the church was indirectly supporting the children who needed this service.
But when funds for the state program dried up, the Decatur offices were closed, leaving FCCD with lots of space, and without GCC on the receiving end of the church’s generosity. A three-year search for a new mission-matching tenant proved unsuccessful.
Then one Fall 2011 afternoon, as members of FCCD staffed a sluggish all-church yard sale at a parishioner’s home, a conversation arose about how to use the space to support mission. Someone noted that the church’s location near the center of Downtown Decatur made it a strong retail location. Having hundreds of visitors at the church’s Decatur Toy Park across the street from the sanctuary meant plenty of nearby foot traffic from families with young children.
The church had space, plenty of yard sale items to spare, plus the benefit of a great retail location. What if the church combined these resources to start a thrift store whose proceeds could fund outreach ministry? After research and further conversation, a few leaders, including Laura Andrew and Schuette, agreed to take responsibility for the new shop. Within a few months, the church had moved forward, Olivia had grown four inches, and the rest was history.
Keys to success
The shop opened August 4, 2012. Doors are open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for sales and to receive material donations. In just three months of operations, the store has generated income of $3,500, leaving its creators with a new problem: How to be effective stewards of the growing funds.
“We were surprised by the response,” said Andrew, chair of FCCD’s outreach ministry. “It’s been so strong… with little more than word of mouth.”
It’s a tidy operation, designed like a higher-end consignment shop. Items are displayed neatly on shelves and racks, organized by size and gender. Two small rooms are dedicated to children’s clothing, toys and gear – a big hit with some of the parents who frequent Decatur Toy Park.
A large display reminds buyers that their purchases will support ministries all over the world. Volunteer sales staff means that about 90% of the proceeds can go directly to mission.
“None of the proceeds support the operating budget of the church,” said James Brewer-Calvert, pastor. The project is a new twist on the church’s 90-year-old intention to extend hospitality.
“In the end, we came around as a congregation saying this needs to be an extension of our hospitality… our hope, our healing, our ministry,” said Brewer-Calvert. “This is not something a tenant is doing. This is something this faith community is doing.”