Creating communities of care
When Fr Daniel Jayaraj came to the Parish of Chermside he brought with him a new vision to create a community of care and he was very keen to start in early 2019. He has a plethora of energy and ideas and it was a matter of seeking volunteers from the church to reinvigorate our parish via a range of projects. Our free soup kitchen was opened first to provide cooked healthy meals to people who need them. We soon saw the happy looks on people’s faces as they enjoyed the food and conversation with each other and the volunteers. So Fr Daniel decided to open the op shop in order to increase our ability to help by giving away the bedding, clothes and household items people need and also to raise funds to continue the work planned to ‘open the church up’.
Our op shop is more than a shop. It is a ministry – a warm and welcoming space where people know that they come for a chat every weekday between 9 am and 1 pm. We have people who come in regularly just to talk. One lovely local regularly comes in to chat to us about Filipino recipes and traditional cultural health remedies. A lonely local who now volunteers at the op shop has dressmaking skills and so she made wonderful COVID-19 masks for church volunteers – she feels welcome at services because she knows Fr Daniel and some of the parishioner volunteers. A delightful gentleman that Fr Daniel met on one of his walks started coming into the shop to regularly buy little things to give to people in need and always donated money to the op shop and soup kitchen money box during his visits. Stories like these warm our hearts.
Another ‘regular’ lady who comes in for a chat had a surgery pending and so Fr Daniel prayed with her – she had tears as she shared that it was the first time anyone had ever prayed for her. Our volunteers in the op shop are very compassionate when people come into the shop who are distressed and struggling with life. We seek out Fr Daniel and he comes and has a chat and prays for them.
We always start our daily shift together with a prayer that we keep at the front counter. This helps to keep our focus on Jesus, bonds our volunteer team and nourishes us so we can care for others.
We now know and greet most people by name and quite often know what items they may be seeking. This is why I affectionately call our shop, ‘The Olde Op Shoppe’. Our op shop functions as another door to our church.
One of our young volunteers, Anna, visited the op shop one day to buy some clothing. She was so thrilled with the fashion items that she purchased $80 worth of clothes. After one visit, she became one of our regular volunteers, and assists at the op shop when she is not studying at university.
Any monies raised by the selling of stock is used to fund other parish ministries, including the soup kitchen and parish pantry Christmas items. While much of our op shop stock is sold, we also give clothes, bedding and household items to people who are in need, including to single mums and dads; people who are unemployed; people experiencing homelessness; people who have fled family and domestic violence; and, people who have recently left prison or hospital.
We feel God’s sovereign hand on our church’s op shop ministry. It’s amazing how often items providentially arrive just when they are needed. We have so many stories of people coming in and asking, “Have you got a…?” And, sure enough, what is needed had just come in that very morning.
Initially to launch the op shop, a small core group of four people met around April 2019, with the op shop finally opening with a service by Fr Daniel and a blessing for its future work a few months later. Getting the shop ready involved cleaning and renovating under the hall; buying the display racks and shelving; replacing the lighting; creating a separate space with curtains for sorting and break times; planning the shop layout; and, making a change room.
What has worked well for us is to have all clothes on long low rails with signs at the front, with clothes grouped and displayed according to prices. Plastic bins are very handy for sorting and odd items. Much of the work is involved in accepting donations, sorting and pricing, displaying stock and managing money.
We have been involved in the op shop from the very start. Anthea sorts and prices as she has a knack with costing crockery, kitchenware and homeware and is ‘chief sorter’. Whereas Jan looks after the clothing, haberdashery, books, music and odd items and is the ‘chief talker’.
Other important tasks were an insurance review; the purchasing of a cash register; organising access to an EPFTPOS machine; and, sourcing a large front counter for payment and displaying special items and church flyers. We use a sign in/out book for volunteers and an A4-size one-day-to-a-page diary to write daily notes. We wear full aprons with ‘All Saints Anglican Church Chermside’ embroidered on the top and badges (with our Christian names only) so we are easily identifiable.
Effective advertising is a big part of the op shop’s success. We purchased a banner to put outside and have been using social media (our parish Facebook page), online community groups, a free local community publication and the church pew bulletin to get word out.
Top 10 tips for launching, opening and running an op shop
- A small core group of approximately four or so parishioners with lots of energy and commitment is needed to drive the launch of a church op shop, as well as the priest, warden and treasurer being on board (as they need to be involved in decision making). If the group is too big, things risk being drawn out and delayed.
- When you open, start small and build from there – we initially opened three days per week and built to five days per week (9 am to 1pm) as we grew.
- Open up your volunteer team to people in the wider community, including young people who have the time and who love op shops; people who are unemployed (so they can upskill and gain a reference); people from other faith backgrounds; and, people from other language backgrounds who want to practise their English-speaking skills.
- Train your volunteers well so they know how to sort and process donations; how to serve and care for customers; and, how to price and merchandise/display items. This helps equip your volunteers with transferable skills and helps the shop run smoothly. Ensure your volunteers are easily identifiable from across the shop (e.g. via aprons), that they are provided with a name badge (with their first name only) and that they sign in and out of each shift (e.g. via a sign-in book).
- Buy your shelving, racks and furniture secondhand, such as on Gumtree, secondhand fitting shops or Facebook neighborhood pages. Find out what grants are available to help with the purchase of more expensive items, including local and state government grants.
- Think about your customers’ comfort and needs by ensuring that your lighting is good so stock is visible, there is ample parking, there is effective street signage, that you provide a fitting room, there is efficient point-of-sale facilities (e.g. a cash register and EFPTPOS machine or similar contactless facility) and that there is a separate curtained-off area for donation drop-offs and sorting.
- Ensure that you arrange any insurance, volunteer policy and workplace health and safety reviews, as required.
- Merchandise/display and price your stock in an accessible and easy-to-maintain way; for example, put bedding with bedding, books with books, shoes/bags with shoes/bags and so on; put a price tag on each item or each collection of items (make your own tags with string and light cardboard); and, label racks clearly, such as ‘Pre-loved fashion’ for name-brand clothes.
- In the COVID-19 environment, ensure that hand sanitiser is available for customers and volunteers, as well as disposable gloves and masks for volunteers
- Spread the word about your op shop through social media, church notices and community publications so parishioners and community members know that they can donate items as well as visit the shop to make purchases or seek assistance.