Step into the St. Luke’s United Methodist Women’s Gift Shop on the church campus and you’ll be greeted with the sight of spring wreaths, handcrafted jewelry, and a selection of sweet treasures.
You’ll also be greeted with a smile and a warm welcome by one or two of the ladies themselves, eager to show you around the boutique and help you choose the perfect gift or accent for the home.
For over 35 years, these women have dedicated their hearts and souls to crafting and curating everything from jewelry and seasonal decorations to handbags and framed artwork. This usually culminates in a grand bazaar each November, during which the community is invited to come and browse the market.
However, none of these women earn a penny from their crafts and labor, and they are not compensated for their time. Every penny is donated to support local, national and international charities. And they wouldn’t want it any other way.
LABOR OF LOVE
Until recently, the group had craft and storage space at the West Oaks Mall in Ocoee. But after Shepherd’s Hope moved out of its old offices and medical space on the campus of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, this building at the back of campus stood empty.
“We had to think outside the box,” said Susse Mabie, the boutique’s volunteer manager. “The church has been amazing with how they think outside the box with everything they do. … So we said, ‘We have to think outside the box too. That’s where it all started. … J I said, ‘You know, maybe this is the time when we do the shop we’ve always, always wanted.’
Mabie approached the church with the group’s request to take a leap of faith and move into the old Shepherd’s Hope facility. After all, she said, the group was faced with the possibility of raising the mall’s rent.
“We didn’t have a store there – it was just where we made and stored,” Mabie said. “And we made all year round and brought it here to sell in our big bazaar.”
In the past, the bazaar has been the largest fundraiser held by St. Luke’s United Methodist Women. Mabie said that one year they won $40,000 in two days, all for charity.
Then the pandemic hit. In a way, women agree, it turned out to be a blessing for many reasons. They used their time to come to the new store, reorganize and manufacture. The main shop was furnished with displays and decorated with lace, twinkling lights and carefully placed merchandise.
At the back of the office space is a large craft room, a mecca for ribbons, wreaths, ornaments and other crafting tools. There is a designated room for processing and pricing items, and another that houses artwork and photographs, as well as storage. In addition, the group no longer has to pay rent for a space that is not theirs.
Two-thirds of the facility is dedicated to the United Methodist Women’s year-round gift shop, while another third has been converted into an apartment for affordable housing for the church custodian. He also gave the church someone on the property for security.
“We got down and reorganized and did everything we could,” Mabie said. “We said, ‘If we were making an average of $250 a week, we’d be making what we were making at the bazaar (all year) anyway,’ which would be nice. … I’ve been in business before and I had a shop. I worked in a shop in Mount Dora, so I knew what to do in terms of the shop and setting it up. But it was a team effort with all the ladies, and they all their own spiritual gifts, and they’re using everything that God has given them. It’s just been wonderful so far.
A WIN-WIN SITUATION
What sets the United Methodist Women’s Shop apart from other gift shops is that it only sells handmade, high-end resale items, Mabie said. It’s not a thrift store, but it’s not a shop that buys new products in bulk to resell them either.
Shoppers can find unique and handcrafted items such as seasonal arrangements and decorations, garden accessories, jewelry, home decor items, children’s quilts and blankets, artwork and photography and greeting cards. On the high-end resale side, the boutique offers women’s clothing, handbags, hats and scarves, jewelry, baby and children’s gifts, more home decor, and religious books.
“We have amazing prizes,” Mabie said. “Something that might be $80 in stores, we have it for less than $20. … We use each other’s spiritual gifts that were given to them, and they just jumped in.
Karen Brown, one of the group’s members and a longtime bazaar volunteer, stressed that it’s not about the money the group is able to make. It’s companionship and the fact that women can use their God-given gifts to make a difference in the lives of others.
“We could write a journal about the stories of how people are blessed,” Brown said. “What I receive is much more than what I give. When I see the difference we can make, that’s all I need.
The money United Methodist Women earn from the shop, Mabie said, goes into a fund run by the church’s pastors. Pastors are then responsible for determining how and to whom funds are distributed based on need.
“A big part of this year was helping people feed themselves,” Mabie said. “It’s like a chain reaction. We have our donation box here, and we’ll be back, and there are always donations there. It is a chain that works constantly. But the best part is that we help people from all over the community and around the world.
Mabie added that the store, its products and its operations would not be possible without the help of each of the women involved. However, as part of a team effort, the group is looking for “young women” who want to get involved. There’s room for everyone – creating, processing and pricing donations, working at the store and more.
“I’ve been running this for over 18 years now, and I’ve seen such growth in the ladies – loyalty as well as friendships,” Mabie said. “The camaraderie and the friendships… we can count on each other. We are there for each other. And it’s one of the most beautiful things we have.
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