- July 16, 2018
Step inside the St. Luke’s United Methodist Women’s gift shop on the church’s 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 from one or two of the women themselves, eager to show you around the shop and help you pick out the perfect gift or home accent.
For more than 35 years, these women have poured their hearts and souls into crafting and curating everything from jewelry and seasonal decorations to handbags and framed artwork. That typically culminates in a large bazaar each November, during which the community is invited to come and peruse the marketplace.
However, none of these women makes a dime off their crafts and workmanship, and they aren’t compensated for their time. Every penny goes back into supporting local, national and international charities. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Until recently, the group had a crafting and storage space at West Oaks Mall in Ocoee. But after Shepherd’s Hope vacated its former offices and medical space on the campus of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, that building at the back of the campus sat empty.
“We had to think outside the box,” said Susse Mabie, the shop’s volunteer manager. “The church has been unbelievable with the way they think outside the box with everything they do. … So we said, ‘We have to think outside the box, too.’ That’s where it started. … I said, ‘You know, maybe this is the time we do the shop that 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 facing the possibility of rising rent at the mall.
“We didn’t have a shop there — it was just where we crafted and stored,” Mabie said. “And we crafted all year-round and brought it all the way over here to sell it at our big bazaar.”
In the past, the bazaar has been the single biggest fundraiser the St. Luke’s United Methodist Women host. Mabie said one year, they made $40,000 in two days — all for charity.
Then, the pandemic hit. In a way, the women agree, it turned out to be a blessing for many reasons. They used their time to come down to the new shop, rearrange and craft away. The main shop has been furnished with displays and decorated with lace, twinkling lights and carefully placed merchandise.
In the back of the office space is a large crafting room, a mecca of ribbons, wreaths, ornaments and other crafting tools. There’s a room designated for processing and pricing items, and another that houses artwork and photographs, as well as storage. Plus, the group no longer has to pay rent for a space that isn’t theirs.
Two-thirds of the facility is dedicated to the United Methodist Women’s year-round gift shop, while another third was transformed into an apartment for affordable housing for the church’s custodian. It also gave the church someone on property for security.
“We came down and rearranged and did everything we could,” Mabie said. “We said, ‘If we average $250 a week, we would make what we made at the bazaar (year-round) anyway,’ which would be nice. … I’ve been in business before and had a boutique. I worked in a boutique up in Mount Dora, so I knew what to do as far as the shop goes and setting it up. But it’s been a team effort with all the ladies, and they all have their own spiritual gifts, and they use whatever God has given them. It’s just been wonderful so far.”
What sets the United Methodist Women’s shop apart from other gift shops is that it only sells handmade and upscale resale items, Mabie said. It isn’t a thrift shop, but it’s also not a shop that buys new, wholesale products to resell.
Shoppers can find unique, handcrafted items such as seasonal arrangements and decorations, garden accessories, jewelry, home décor, children’s quilts and blankets, artwork and photographs, and greeting cards. On the upscale resale side, the shop carries ladies’ clothing, handbags, hats and scarves, jewelry, baby and children’s gifts, more household décor and faith-based books.
“We have unbelievable prices,” Mabie said. “Something that might cost $80 in a store, we’ve got it for less than $20. … We’re using everybody’s spiritual gifts they’ve been given, and they’ve just jumped right in.”
Karen Brown, one of the group members and a longtime bazaar volunteer, emphasized that it’s not about the money the group is able to make. It’s the camaraderie and the women being able to use the gifts God has given them to make a difference in the lives of others.
“We could write a journal on the stories of how people are blessed,” Brown said. “What I get is so much more than I give. When I see the difference we can make, that’s all I need.”
Money the United Methodist Women make from the shop, Mabie said, goes into a fund stewarded by the church’s pastors. The pastors are then responsible for determining how and to whom the funds get distributed based on need.
“This year, a lot of it has been going to help people get fed,” Mabie said. “It’s like a chain reaction. We have our donation box out here, and we’ll come back, and there’s always donations there. It’s a chain that’s constantly working. But the best thing is we’re helping people all over the community and all over the world.”
Mabie added the shop and its products and operations would not be possible without the help of each and every single woman involved. As a team effort, though, the group is looking for “the younger ladies” who want to get involved. There is a place for everyone — crafting, processing and pricing donations, working the shop and more.
“I have headed this up for more than 18 years now, and I have seen such growth in the ladies — faithfulness as well as friendships,” Mabie said. “The camaraderie and the friendships … we can rely on one another. We’re there for each other. And that’s one of the nicest things that we get.”