Churches play role in new Children's Home thrift shop

ORANGE CITY -- Heart & Home Resale Shop is a thrift store with a faith-based difference.

The newly opened shop in Four Townes Shopping Center in Orange City is a first-time venture for the Florida United Methodist Children's Home (FUMCH). The shop's proceeds will add needed money to the coffers of a Methodist ministry that for more than 100 years has given shelter and hope to hundreds of children.

But that's not all that sets Heart & Home Resale apart.  

Shoppers outside front doors to Resale Shop waiting for opening
Shoppers wait for the doors to open at the new Heart & Home Resale Shop in Orange City.  Photos from the Florida United Methodist Children's Home.

Volunteers from area churches, including First UMC, DeLand, and St. John's UMC, Winter Haven, pitched in to clean up and refurbish the former location of a Goodwill thrift shop. Church volunteers also help staff and operate the shop.

"This has been an amazing thing to see all the churches and support from the Methodist family across the state," said Mark Nelson, FUMCH'S vice president of development.

Al Miner helped organize a group of 11 volunteers from St. John's UMC. They spent up to three days painting, repairing display cases and countertops and sorting clothes prior to the shop's preliminary opening in October. A grand opening was held in December.

"It was really neat to be a part of this," Miner said.

Area businesses also supported the enterprise. Hora Construction in Gainesville donated paint for the entire building. Upgrades to the plumbing, electrical system and ceiling tiles were done free of charge. Managers from JCPenney in Daytona Beach offered advice on the store’s layout and design, and the retail giant also donated five truckloads of fixtures, such as display cases, clothes racks and mannequins.

Everything from lighting to floor displays to the decor is meant as a visual welcome mat to customers.

"We're not trying to be a garage sale," said Jennifer Lichtenwald, FUMCH's director of support services. "We get comments every day on how beautiful it is. It almost looks like a retail store."

Customers can browse the 10,000-square-foot store for clothing, jewelry, furniture, shoes, sporting goods, housewares, books and more. A boutique section includes a selection of more high-end women's clothing and accessories.

The goal is to offer reasonable prices for quality merchandise to the community, including low-income families that rely on thrift shops for basic items.

Two women browse among displayed wares inside new thrift shop
Shoppers check out wares at the Heart & Home Resale Shop. Purchases help support Florida United Methodist Children's Home programs, including preparing teens for independent living as adults.

"There is just a huge community that looks for thrift shops," Lichtenwald said. "But we don't view them (thrift shops) as competition. We're letting people know who we are."

The shop also will benefit FUMCH's Independent Living Program, which helps older teenagers prepare for living on their own. One teenager already is on a work/study schedule and helps at the shop.

"It's a learning experience for her," Lichtenwald said. "We are hoping to expand on the program and teach basic work ethics."

The idea for the shop had been discussed for some time. About a year ago, the search for a location began. When word got out that FUMCH needed new and "gently used" items for its thrift store, donations poured in from businesses, churches and individuals in the community.

The items were in storage in various locations until the shop opened.

About $180,000 was budgeted to support the shop's first year. So far, less than $40,000 has been spent.

"We're very efficient with funds," Lichtenwald said. "We've had a positive response. It was a good location to be where a thrift store used to be. Many customers every day ask who we're affiliated with, and they are very excited to know who we are."

Many church volunteers have longstanding relationships with FUMCH and were eager to help with this latest project. The agency provides a family-style home for school-aged children, generally ages 6 to 17, as well as foster care, adoption services, an emergency shelter and child care. The Independent Living Program serves children and young adults up to 26 years old. FUMCH is funded largely from offerings from churches within the Florida Conference as well as individual donations and legacy gifts.  

Professional retail displays inside the thrift store
Professional retail displays and fixtures at the Heart & Home Thrift Shop came courtesy of corporate donors, and local churches supplied volunteers to bring the project to reality.  

"It's just a climate over there and the work being done and what people have done with their lives after being there," Miner says. "It kind of touches you."

Miner and other St. John's volunteers built a welcome center and check-out area using pallets that looked as if they belonged on a trash heap. But the group brought a special skill set to the task. Some are retired schoolteachers with carpentry experience. Co-leader Richard Blue is a retired engineer who started his own handyman business.

"We were able to make a neat (rustic) design," Miner says. "You'd have thought it was antique lumber."

About 15 volunteers from nearby First UMC in DeLand helped out. Many serve on the church's disaster relief mission team, which responds after storms, hurricanes and other emergencies.

"The shop needed a lot of work," said Carmon Ungaro, who organized the volunteers.

The group helped with painting, putting display cases in order, sorting clothes and delivering truckloads of goods to the shop.

Volunteers also help staff the shop, but Lichtenwald said staffing has been the biggest challenge.

"We're not having consistent volunteer support. We would like that," she said. "Right now our focus is on building the volunteer base."

The shop operates from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Click here for more information, including donation and volunteering opportunities.

Ungaro said a sign-up sheet system at area churches should resolve the shop's staffing problem. "I know there's more people who want to volunteer," he said.

And two garage sales to benefit church missions at First UMC will continue the church's support for FUMCH.

"Whatever is left we'll take to the shop," Ungaro said. "And that usually is a (good) bit of stuff."

-- Kathy Steele is a freelance writer based in Tampa. 

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