Response: July/August 2016 Issue

Every Monday

United Methodist Women members in Vermont bring the community together with their Every Monday thrift shop.

Every Monday
Chelsea Pope, Betty Dennison and Gayle Bryant sort clothes at First United Methodist Church in Burlington, Vt.

"Every Monday" at First United Methodist Church in Burlington, Vermont, is billed as a thrift shop, but that is an understatement. Every Monday is a community center and a source of fellowship for the United Methodist Women who volunteer there as well as for the many who come in to shop. One young man who volunteers says he's improving his math skills while helping with sales.

One of the women who comes in periodically is collecting shoes to send to her home village in Ghana. Another visitor is working with a trainer to develop skills that will enable her to find work.

According to Gayle Bryant, who described its history, the shop has survived because of the long-term commitment of the volunteers who run it. The shop recently celebrated 28 years in operation. A core group of women worked together for its first 25 years until they could no longer run it. Ms. Bryant, together with some other United Methodist Women members of First United Methodist, agreed to take it over. To Ms. Bryant's delight, one of the former team members, June Way, agreed to stay on.

"June is wonderful at organizing and filling small spaces," Ms. Bryant said. "She arranges displays to make things look as nice as possible, and sometimes she rearranges locations of items to give the shop a different look."

On occasion they need some extra help from church members at large, so they will then put a notice in the church newsletter. It could be help preparing and folding clothing, or they could have requests for items like baby clothing or soaps and lotions.

Ms. Way told the story of how she agreed to stay on and be Ms. Bryant's partner.

"I'll be her partner as long as I don't have to be the head of it," she said. "I guess you might say I'm retired, but I'm still very active.

"We not only supply physical needs like pots and pans, but people come in for fellowship. I just feel that's where I'm called. What we do helps people in so many ways."

Sometimes they realize someone is truly in need of some clothing that they can't afford, even as inexpensive as it is. Some customers ask if they can walk out wearing what they have just bought. The thrift store periodically has sales to make room for new arrivals, so prices go down yet further and then if not sold are offered by the bag for a dollar, then for 50 cents, then given away for free to make room for new donations.

Community support

The shop is set up in the church's basement hall. It's a fine-tuned operation. The volunteers, a core group of six or seven women, arrive to set up before 9 a.m. and they open at 10. With help from the church's staff they roll out the shelves, boxes and tables where the items for sale are carefully arranged: clothing for men and women, housewares, jewelry, toys and seasonally appropriate decorations. Donations come in year round, so Christmas plates received in July are no problem. When the shop closes at 2 p.m. everything is again returned to its assigned storage space.

Considering that most of the items are sold for a dollar a piece, the $2,000 they earned in the quarter ending September 2015 was impressive. The totals vary — sometimes they may bring in around $300 for the month. Ms. Bryant mentioned that some of the money is earned by selling valuable donated items in a store that handles goods on consignment. She also sells some objects on eBay. Those who make such donations know the items won't be sold at the usual cut-rate thrift shop prices and that the United Methodist Women and community organizations will thus receive valuable mission funds.

Ms. Bryant explained that the funds they raise go to a variety of children's programs in Burlington, like the Community Health Center of Burlington, which provides services including dental treatment and prescriptions for children, and the Visiting Nurse Association family room, which offers programs for children while their parents are taking classes in nutrition and parenting. The church's own children's education program also is a beneficiary.

The JUMP program (Joint Urban Ministry Project) of Burlington has a reciprocal relationship with Every Monday. JUMP was started with $10,000 bequeathed by a man who was a member of the church. The inheritance came as a surprise because he was remembered as someone who walked through the streets of Burlington collecting bottles. People were astounded when he left this amount of money to the faith communities of Burlington stipulating that the proceeds be distributed to the needy and to provide spiritual and emotional care for them as well.

A number of these communities, including churches, a local synagogue and a Buddhist Center, came together to create JUMP using this inheritance. They support JUMP financially and with help from volunteers. Every Monday contributes some of its earnings to JUMP, earmarked for diapers and baby food. Among the services JUMP offers its clients are vouchers for small sums of money that are accepted by a variety of local stores. Clients can buy food, medication and gasoline and sometimes pay for their utilities or a smoking cessation program or something similar. For its part, Every Monday accepts the vouchers from clients buying clothing or housewares.

"I am very grateful and thankful for the JUMP services," said Monica Yildiz, who was shopping at Every Monday with her daughter and was using the vouchers. "I like going there because I find things that I want and need. Many times I can find something, but other times I cannot." She said she wished that they could have more children's clothing, but it always depends on what is donated.

Another relationship that connects Every Monday to the community at large is the cooperation with the Howard Center, whose services include programs for individuals with developmental disabilities and substance use recovery. It is near the church, so some of the staff would drop by and a discussion soon began as to how Every Monday could cooperate with the center. This led to Chelsey Pope, a job coach at the Howard Center, coming into the store with client Betty Dennison who needed job training for working in a retail store. At Every Monday Ms. Dennison learned how to fold and organize clothing. After several sessions there, Ms. Bryant wrote a letter of recommendation for her based on the training she'd received.

A place for fellowship

Edith Boakye is another regular shopper, but she does not shop for herself. She buys shoes and clothing to send to her home village in Ghana.

"They are so nice to me," she said. "Sometimes they even give me things for free since they know I'm sending it to Africa."

Logan Morey, 10, and Every Monday's youngest volunteer, is the great-grandson of Esther Morey, one of the committed volunteers who founded the thrift shop. Mr. Morey used to visit his great-grandmother when she was volunteering at the shop, and he was missing her so much after she passed away in 2015 that he told his parents that he would like to continue her work there.

He has found a special niche working with toys that are donated. Sometimes they have to be reassembled, and other times they just need some soap and water. He also helps with the cash and making change.

"I get a lot of math out of this," he said. "Sometimes I take charge of the cash box or help June Way count the money. When people bring their items with the price tags I add up the money. And this also helps me feel better about my great-grandmother who died. When I'm here and working I feel like I'm a part of her."

Mr. Morey is being homeschooled, and this becomes a practical part of his education. He is also developing skills in human relations and communications as he talks to the many people who come to shop.

"There are children from different cultures who come in with their parents. I've talked to people from Nepal and China. If they don't speak English, we do sign language."

Pam Fenimore, the church's administrative assistant, is a more recent volunteer. She described how the shop also functions as a neighborhood community center.

"People come in to share their stories," she said. "In some cases the story is difficult, so we may just listen. One customer looks carefully at the items. He's quite well dressed and he stays to himself. Then there is 'Amazing Grace' who chats about her past and tells stories of her parents and children. She comes almost every week."

The Monday before Christmas is a day of celebration. Cookies and fudge are served to whomever comes in.

Ms. Bryant described the basic ethos of Every Monday.

"We all depend on that fellowship of coming together. No one works at the thrift shop because they have nothing else to do. We believe in the mission."

Beryl Goldberg is a photojournalist based in New York and frequent contributor to response.

Posted or updated: 7/17/2016 11:00:00 PM

July/August 2016 cover of response

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