Second Congregational Church’s ‘Little Shop’ lends a hand

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Stafford - posted Mon., Jul. 1, 2013
Store manager Barbara Robinson (left) accepts a clothing donation from Violet Irish for the Little Shop store. Photos by Annie Gentile.
Store manager Barbara Robinson (left) accepts a clothing donation from Violet Irish for the Little Shop store. Photos by Annie Gentile.

For people down on their luck and in need of a good outfit for that all-important job interview, or for a family with a new baby finding it hard to keep up with clothes on top of other expenses, the Second Congregational Church of Stafford’s Little Shop is a place where they can turn.

“We used to hold rummage sales in the church basement, and afterwards we’d have to pack things up and throw away what we didn’t sell,” said church member Myrna Gambino. “It seemed such a shame, because there were a lot of really nice things.”

The church already owned the house next door to their property and used the upstairs rooms for Religious Education classes, the minister’s office and meeting space. At Gambino’s suggestion, the church started using a small room downstairs to sell second-hand clothes to raise funds for the church.

“I came from Enfield, and our congregational church has had a store there for heavens knows how long, so [opening a store here] rang a bell with me,” said Gambino. Her son built a counter for handling sales and displaying items in the front room, and soon they had shelving and regular donations of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing for sale. The Little Shop also offers shoes, handbags, jewelry and more.

Last fall, the church welcomed a new minister, the Rev. Carl Reynolds, and that winter - with his help and prior connections with Habitat for Humanity – the Little Shop was expanded to increase its space by three or four times.

“I worked with the East of the River group of Habitat for Humanity for almost 10 years,” said Reynolds. “I was a construction supervisor teaching volunteers how to build homes in Hartford, and so I asked them if they would help us with the framing and sheetrock [of the remainder of the downstairs area]. I did all the finish work myself.”

Members of the church volunteered with interior painting and they added curtains that dressed up the windows. Another church member donated many of the shelving racks, and one of the young members of the church assembled them all. In addition, Barbara Robinson, who manages the shop on Saturdays along with church member and friend Claire Richens, purchased a number of circular clothing display racks from a Fashion Bug store in Manchester that was closing its doors.

“We’ve got a bunch of low-paid CEOs around here,” quipped Robinson, who keeps busy adding clothing donations and keeping them folded and sorted by age and gender. “All of the money we make goes into the general fund to help with whatever bills we might have at the time.”

Robinson and all the volunteers take pride in the fact that the store has been a resource for a variety of people in the greater Stafford community. “We have a couple that purchases clothes for young people with developmental disabilities so they have something to wear when they look for jobs,” she said.

Richens noted that only recently a man came in and purchased two new suits, while another picked up a $5 bag that he filled with nine shirts, some with brand name labels. “Thanks to Barbara, this store runs absolutely great,” she said.

The store, however, doesn’t only serve the Stafford area community. Volunteers also have sent donations to an organization in Hartford, and whatever doesn’t sell is packed up and taken by another couple from the church, Violet and Dan Irish, up to Saco, Maine, and provided to a small Methodist Church in a depressed area where people can sign up and take clothes free of charge. “In this way, we know we are helping others as well,” said Violet Irish.

Robinson added that the Little Shop also donates gently-used winter coats to the Stafford Social Services Department for families in need, and also donated clothing to people who were impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

“When I was candidating [for minister], I knew that this church was small and close to the edge for surviving, and I told them if they wanted to grow, they had to be open to change,” said Reynolds. “The people here are open to new liturgies and hymns and new ideas. So often churches want to grow just to have more money and bodies in their pews, but this one is a friendly community that really wants to share with others. That’s the universal difference here,” he said.

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