Seconds out – How an op shop rivalry turned into a Synod duel
The Box Hill Town Hall in June was the scene of a showdown between two Uniting Church ministers, one that had been building for months.
Rev Cynthia Page and Rev Claire Dawe came to the Synod meeting with their fashion fates in each other’s hands. A Facebook fashion rivalry resulted in the women picking outfits from their respective church op shops for the other to wear at the Synod meeting.
“The rivalry between Claire and I has been going on for about six months, it’s great fun,” Cynthia says.
“At the Synod meeting we exchanged gifts from our op shops. I gave Claire a teaspoon from the Bendigo South Bowling Club, a scarf and an Italian Milano heart. Claire gave me a very lairy artificial flower, an equally lairy jacket and a pink handbag with ruffles.”
“Obviously, I won the challenge,” laughed Claire.
Claire is the minister for the Chelsea Parish, made up of Carrum, Edithvale and Chelsea Uniting Churches and Cynthia is the minister at Eaglehawk and Marong Uniting Church, just outside of Bendigo.
Earlier this year, Cynthia and volunteer Tam Hein started regularly posting op shop fashion ensembles on the Eaglehawk UC Facebook, only to find that Chelsea UC began posting, trying to outdo their country cousins in the fashion stakes.
The humble op shop is often the lifeblood of many Uniting Church communities. Scattered throughout Victoria and Tasmania, the familiar dove logo can be seen on stores in strip shopping centres, church halls and even buses converted to mobile shops. Each week, hundreds of volunteers donate their time cleaning and sizing clothes, sorting homewares and arranging displays.
As well as being the place to nab a bargain, each year op shops in Australia provide millions of dollars in goods to people experiencing disadvantage. And most of the income generated through op shops goes to support programs for people in need in the local community.
Angela Goodwin, director of Share, said op shops play an important role in supporting the Church’s outreach work in the community.
“They are incredibly generous, donating proceeds to Share for crisis programs which help make a difference to people in need,” Ms Goodwin said.
Claire explained the Chelsea op shop, attached to the Carrum Uniting Church, is much more than just a place to hunt for bargains.
“It is a hugely busy op shop and it’s become a bit of a community hub,” Claire said.
“There were a lot of young mums and grandmas bringing kids they were caring for through the shop. We started chatting to them and we set up a playgroup and it’s very busy.
“We’ve also got a messy church here that has come from the playgroup. It’s a bit organic; there’s also a morning coffee where people can come into the church porch area from the op shop and they can get a free cuppa. That’s become a pastoral care ministry that happens with our church volunteers.”
Volunteers are the backbone of any successful op shop, and Chelsea Parish is lucky to have as many as 40 people willing to donate their time. Claire said congregation member Mabel Arnold manages the op shop and coordinates volunteer shifts.
“We receive some really good quality donations and turn over a lot of money each year. This is what keeps our parish afloat,” Claire said.
“We make over $100,000 a year and donate 30 per cent of all proceeds to the local community groups. Things like the SES, the CFA and a breakfast group that we run with the Church of Christ.
“The op shop is a hub of activity where you can meet with people and chat with them, hear their stories. You’re building relationships. And that’s where church is based, isn’t it?”
Like the Chelsea op shop, Eaglehawk UC’s shop is something of a community hub.
“It’s part of a very tiny strip shopping centre and most of the stuff is donated by locals,” Cynthia said.
Volunteers from Eaglehawk, Marong and Long Gully UCs also play a huge part in the success of the shop. One volunteer Cynthia wanted to mention particularly is 84-year-old Lorna Thomas.
“Lorna is on the committee of management and spends hours sorting buttons and presenting them attractively on cards. Lorna is also in charge of books and magazines, serves in the shop on Thursday mornings and then spends many hours doing the behind the scenes stuff,” Ms Page said.
“The funds raised are only used for mission. We have an outreach that is youth focussed to kids in the local area and local school. We also run a community playgroup and have a small mission group that do a lot of craft and they send what they make to Aboriginal communities and make baby packs for young mums.
“There’s not the stigma there used to be to op shops. Our customers are mainly local people but we get people who might be up for a day trip from Kyneton or Castlemaine. We’ve got mums who call in before they pick the kids up; we have public housing near us so some of them are regulars.
“We also donate to people who come in who are clearly doing it tough.”
Part of the community
Kalkee Op-Shop in Belmont began in the back gardens of Uniting AgeWell Kalkee Community 16 years ago and has become major contributor to the aged care facility.
Volunteer coordinator Heather Burger said the op shop has made a significant contribution to community and renovation projects.
“The op shop is an essential part of Kalkee,” she said.
“Over the years it has contributed enough funds to purchase two mini-buses for community outings, harps for palliative care and numerous renovation projects at the residential sites and independent living units.”
Staffed entirely by volunteers, the Kalkee Op-Shop has a fun family atmosphere with some long-term volunteers racking up more hours each week than your average office worker.
Geelong woman Jann Brearley has volunteered five-and-a-half days a week for the last nine years and oversees the day-to-day operations of the shop.
Jann was recently recognised for her work with people undertaking community service and nominated for the Victorian Government Community Partnership Award. This award celebrates the diverse partnerships that Corrections Victoria has with the Victorian community.
“We welcome volunteers from all walks of life – from professionals, seniors and jobseekers to those undertaking community service,” she said.
“Every day is different and there’s never a dull moment, with many volunteers staying even after they’ve completed their service period.”
Jann said the Kalkee op shop was also a place for people in the community to come in and have a chat.
“For many who come in, we are the only people they talk to the entire day, so we try to provide them with a bit of companionship,” she said.
“We sell clothes, kitchenware and small furniture items as well as act as lay counsellors, listening and chatting to our customers.
“The Kalkee Op-Shop is a paradise for treasure hunters, ethical shoppers and people wanting to find something different and save some money.”
On the road again
The winding, dirt roads of Tasmania’s Central Highlands are not a place you want to break down in the middle of winter. So it was a relief when UnitingCare Tasmania was able to replace its old, unreliable mobile op shop bus with a new van.
Community services manager at UnitingCare Tasmania Lois Van Eimeren said the mobile op shop is back on the road thanks to a grant from the Tasmanian Community Fund.
“We are back delivering much needed goods and friendship to the Central Highlands communities,” Lois said.
“It’s the biggest van we could get that can be driven by someone driving with a normal licence. We chose one with extra height so we can now still have people walking on to the bus. It’s got LED lighting and hanging racks and we have tarps that we set up on tables and people can also walk on the bus and look at what we have hanging.”
The arrival of the bus has been particularly timely as communities are still struggling with the aftermath of the floods that hit the state in June this year.
“Bendigo Bank had a big blanket and warm clothing drive for us, so that stock has gone on the bus,” Lois said.
“Yesterday was our second trip up into the Central Highlands, so I was able to take a lot of warm blankets and warm clothing up. They’ve had a lot of heartache up there because they were quite severely impacted with the floods.”
The mobile bus operates from the UnitingCare office in Hobart. Donations from local church communities are sorted by volunteers, sized and packed on the bus before it heads out to remote towns.
“We are not out to make a lot of money, we really do it to be out there in the community. We recently advertised at the local school at Oust that we would be visiting, so when we arrived we had mums there with children. A lot of pyjamas, cardigans and blankets went,” Lois said.
“It was also a day where they have a community luncheon for elderly folk, so they were able to come and have a look as well. We had nearly run out of books when one of the ladies went home and brought us a box of books –all Danielle Steele, she obviously likes the romance.”
The bus will travel to towns at least twice a week, often covering more than 200 kilometres each trip as they visit isolated communities.
Lois said the op shop is as much about offering outreach as it is about selling goods. She said some people in Tasmania are particularly vulnerable, especially during winter.
“A few weeks ago I spoke with a man who told me he was homeless,” Lois said.
“He only had thin clothing on; I asked him if he had other clothes and he told me he only had what he was dressed in. So I gave him jeans and a jacket and some tops. He put his hand in his pocket and said ‘this is all I’ve got’. He had two dollars in his hand. I said ‘Put that in your pocket, we don’t want that’.
“As he left he said, ‘I can give me brother back these clothes now’.
“A lot of what we do is really just visit people and have a chat, let them know that we are there with them.”
Is your church community running an op shop? Rev Claire Dawe would love to hear from you about joining a Uniting Church Op Shop page and joining in the fun. Contact Claire on firstname.lastname@example.org
TOP TIPS FOR THE OP SHOPPER
Whether you are furnishing your first home, want to be fashionable on a budget or need an outfit for a fancy dress party, local op shops are the place to go when you want to make your money stretch a bit further.
Tips for donating:
Make sure clothes are in reasonable condition, if you wouldn’t give it to a friend – don’t donate.
Wash all clothes and fold neatly into a box or bag.
Ensure all paired clothes remain together – tie laces of shoes.
Tips for bargain hunting:
- Know what you want
Start by looking at your existing wardrobe. Be ruthless and donate any clothes you haven’t worn for at least a year. Think carefully about what you need to add and make a list.
- Dress to shop
Wear clothes you can easily change in and out of in the changing rooms.
- Colour your shopping
Many racks are ordered by colour – start with the colours you know that suit you and you’ll have a better chance of finding something that works.
- Go for quality
High quality brands will fit better and last longer. They’re often priced higher for this reason, but are worth spending a little more on. Even if you don’t know the brand, look for high quality fabrics like wool, cashmere or 100 per cent cotton.
- Classic hits
Op shops can be great for buying timeless pieces like leather belts, well cut jeans, wool coats, or trench coats.
- Take your time
Put aside a few hours to peruse the bigger op shops, you’ll need to rummage. Most of all, enjoy the op shopping experience!