Giving Store offers shopping experience to church charityWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
The 78-year-old great-grandmother held the vibrant pink blouse and skirt set against her as the store workers nodded approvingly. Yes, she decided, she would get the set. However, the woman wasn’t an average customer at a regular department store — she was one of the many served at the Glenwood Lutheran Church’s grand opening of The Giving Store.
On the Dec. 10 official grand opening, 157 families “shopped” free items and 58 people volunteered at 2545 Monroe St. in Toledo. Since beginning business in September, more than 300 families have been served at the free store. The store is open on the second Saturday of every month and the fourth Wednesday as well starting this month.
“The one thing we want to make sure is that our customers have a wonderful experience and one of the things we want to do is be gracious like God has been to us,” said Sharon Merritt, the store’s coordinator.
Glenwood Lutheran Church (GLC) largely modeled its store off the United Methodist Free Store in Columbus. About a year and a half ago, Rev. John Edgar came to Toledo to talk about his congregation’s store. His visit motivated Merritt to take a trip down to look — she was impressed and inspired.
“They have just been wildly successful because they have looked at the needs of their community,” Merritt said.
In The Giving Store’s first run in September, it served 50 families. In October, it served 80 and in November, 95 families came out. Many have been repeat customers, Merritt said.
Starting a store with no startup costs was a community effort. A former congregation member who worked at T.J. Maxx helped design the store for efficient customer flow while Merritt and other congregation members scouted out racks and shelves from a variety of places; Eddie Bauer also donated some.
The store is laid out like a department store with sections for women, men, children, housewares and linens. Strict guidelines are on enforced on how many of each item people can take and shoppers are called in from waiting in groups of 15 at a time.
“All of that detail work is what makes it a seamless experience when our customers come,” said GLC’s pastor, the Rev. Melissa Micham.
Each session starts with a brief service by Micham 15 minutes before the shopping experience begins. These services, while brief, give Micham a chance to touch on special issues and accept prayer requests.
“I think there’s greater freedom to acknowledge the harsh realities of life that people have experienced and to address and name for them what hope there is in Christ. They’re ready to hear that,” Micham said.
Service is typically held in a room across the hall from The Giving Store, but at the December grand opening, it was held in the sanctuary. A special breakfast, complete with Santa, and a Christmas room with newer items were other highlights from the grand opening. Some shoppers were so excited, they showed up at 7:20 a.m. even though the breakfast didn’t begin until 8 a.m., Merritt said.
“When people arrive they’re often very nervous, they don’t what to expect. They think there will be expectations placed upon them and when they leave they are beaming from ear to ear,” Micham noted.
Merritt said she has been impressed by the generosity of donors. She recalled going to a garage sale and talking with the woman running it about The Giving Store. The woman, who had recently been laid off, began giving Merritt items for the store.
“She was having a garage sale to generate a little extra cash and here she was donating things I know our customers would appreciate,” Merritt said. “It is heart-warming to me to know how much people are willing to help other people.”
Donations are typically accepted from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday at GLC. Micham recommended calling first if you plan to donate outside those hours.
Small household electronics in working condition are some of the most needed and popular items. Linens and children’s clothing are also appreciated donations, Merritt said.
The Giving Store will be open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 25. There will also be a volunteer training session at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 24.
The great-grandmother had worked at Howard Johnson’s, St. Vincent Hospital and in voter education in her lifetime. “Before I swelled up,” she chuckled before beginning her slow walk home with some newly acquired yellow towels and her pink clothes. For more information, visit www.glenwoodlc.net.