The little op shop with a big heart - that sums up Tairua’s St Francis Church Op Shop. And these days the car park is full, as many locals and visitors check out the goods and chat to the friendly volunteers.
It’s surprising how much is packed inside, but there is much more to the shop’s mission than offering nice things at bargain prices. As well as money taken over the counter, which supports local causes, there are other ways the shop helps people. Through recycling, mobile phones end up at a Christchurch wildlife park in a Save the Gorillas programme, funds from recycled plastic bread tags help people needing wheelchairs and spectacles are welcomed by people living in the Pacific Islands. With the focus on recycling, even broken pottery is passed on to a local artist who does mosaics.
There are around 35 volunteers helping the shop run smoothly and maintaining its high standards. As they chat in the back room sitting at tables piled with blankets, jumpers, pots and all manner of goods, a cheery group of eight are busy sorting everything out. From time to time, someone turns up at the door offering more things for sale. A new resident arrives carrying a donation of large art works, then a local motelier greets the volunteers and brings a huge pile of warm bedding, just in time for winter. It’s all very social.
“Corrina is the boss of clothing,” says Marian as she makes everyone a cup of tea. Marian has been involved over 20 years. “Bev repairs jewellery and she also checks out the children’s toys, including the noisy ones. Leonie is in charge of linen, assisted by Margaret. Auriol is in charge of the books after I have sifted out any tatty ones. And Sharon and Linda do what Corrina says - or they may do what they want! Alby is the maintenance man and Chris is the ‘gofer’ who does a lot and tells stories while he’s doing it.”
Judy Atkinson is in charge of the knitting group that provides blankets and baby clothes for the Thames and other birthing units. Beryl Burrows makes jellies for sale and her husband, Mel, mends any broken wooden toys. Then there are the ladies who turn up with plates of scones for morning tea.
“We love it when things donated are nice and clean,” says Marion.
Some folk come looking for things like potato mashers, old-fashioned egg beaters and mincers. One customer got so excited when she discovered an enamel teapot on the shop shelf.
“And that’s what we love,” says Sharon. “When we see the pleasure on someone’s face as they spot something they really want. We have so many lovely customers and it’s good to see them coming back time after time. As well as locals, we have customers from Auckland and other places, and they also bring things for us to sell. We appreciate how they have supported us over Covid. If they haven’t had a mask on, they have been happy to just check out the stuff we put outside.”
It is nearly 40 years since the op shop opened for business in 1984. Within a year it was declared “highly successful”. Parish minutes recorded a vote of thanks to Brian Gilmour for his special effort in organising the parish hall extension to house the shop.
Fast forward 25 years and an in-depth report on the operation of the op shop, requested by the St Francis church council, included input from volunteers. This identified the positive benefits of the shop as a place for contacts, the lonely and those moving to Tairua. It also highlighted the “marvellous way of volunteers getting together as one, with Tairua, Whangamatā and Pauanui all working together”.
Most volunteers wanted to see more space available and one volunteer had no space in her garage for her car because it was full of stored furniture. The volunteers noticed that because the pricing was right, people bought several things. Another comment said there was a lot of caring and this tied in with the church outreach.
As well as serving the local community, the op shop supports kiwifruit pickers from Vanuatu and Fiji, who come annually to work in the area. The shop volunteers fill a container with things needed back home. Refugees settling in the Waikato through a Red Cross programme are also helped with household goods. Bags of surplus merchandise are distributed to organisations helping those in need on the Coromandel and further afield.
At the time the St Francis Church Op Shop was planned, a draft mission statement declared that the shop is to “provide the community with a place to obtain good quality, low-cost items in a congenial and caring environment.” And that is just what it does.
The shop is open Thursday and Saturday from 9:30am to 1:00pm.
Pictured is some of the cheerful volunteers who help to run the Tairua St Francis Church Op Shop.