Ruth Arnot, a volunteer in The Giving Store, arranges a holiday display. Everything is free in the store in the basement of Glenwood Lutheran Church beside the Toledo Museum of Art on Monroe Street.
Like most stores, this one's shelves are overflowing with merchandise, from jewelry and purses to toys and toasters. There are coats, hats, clothes, and shoes neatly arranged on racks. A few children's bicycles are on display. Christmas music floats through the air.
Everything and everyone is ready for a rush of shoppers.
Unlike most stores, however, all the items on display at the Giving Store will be given away. Free. No charge. No cash or credit cards required.
It's an outreach to the community from Glenwood Lutheran Church, the historic church adjacent to the Toledo Museum of Art on Monroe Street.
There are no requirements to shop, but each family must register and receive a "member card" used to keep track of visits.
"All you have to do is show up," said the Rev. Melissa Micham, pastor. "This is a way of sharing God's grace. God has freely given us so much -- obviously our health and our salvation, but also our material goods. If we can share that, we are glad to do it."
From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Glenwood will celebrate the grand opening of the Giving Store, which is in the basement of the church at 2545 Monroe St.
The Giving Store will open the second Saturday of each month, and already has opened shop three times for test runs. As word spread, the number of customers has increased. In September, 50 families showed up. In October, there were 80 families, and last month, 100 families.
A variety of dolls available at the Givng Store. Members of Glenwood Lutheran Church have started a free store called the Giving Store, collecting clothes and household items that they give away once a month to anyone who comes to the church and asks -- there is no criterion of need or residence
"We are so excited about our customers," Ms. Micham said. "We want to be welcoming and warm to shoppers. We want to interact with them. It is central to our mission that we are creating community."
And when it comes to shoppers, the more the merrier, Glenwood members assert -- up to a point. While they want to help as many needy people as possible, they acknowledge they'll need help from the community with volunteers and donations if demand grows as expected.
"Our desire is to expand our ministry, and we can do this only with a larger volunteer pool that is committed to service," Ms. Micham said.
Already, 60 of Glenwood's 70 members have pitched in to play some role with the Giving Store, the pastor said. An informational meeting to train volunteers from the community is set for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 24 at the church.
Sharon Merritt, a longtime Glenwood member who is heading up the store ministry, said donations so far have come from 10 area churches, mostly Lutheran but also other Protestant denominations and Roman Catholic.
Members of Augsburg Lutheran Church and Bethany Lutheran Church have donated handmade quilts and comforters. Most of the racks and shelving were donated by local retail outlets.
Individuals have showed up with boxes of clothing or other items, including one woman who brought 30 new children's coats, Ms. Merritt said.
The pastor said she doesn't hesitate to call churches that are holding rummage sales and ask if they would donate their leftovers to Glenwood.
One pastor, the Rev. Chuck Campbell of Lutheran Church of the Master, even rented a truck at his own expense to haul the rummage sale remains from Perrysburg to Glenwood, she said.
The reason that a small, struggling church is undertaking such a big outreach is because the congregation can relate to people who are struggling, Ms. Micham said.
As with most mainline Protestant churches in urban settings, Glenwood has been battling the two-pronged challenge of declining membership and rising costs of maintaining its facility.
Founded in 1901, Glenwood had more than 2,000 members in the 1950s but membership has been on the decline. In 1976, when the church celebrated its 75th anniversary, it had 800 members, and today an average of 65 people attend on a Sunday morning.
When Ms. Micham arrived four years ago fresh out of seminary, she formed a "vision and planning committee" to evaluate Glenwood's viability.
At one point, the congregation considered closing its doors forever, she said.
But the members decided this year that the best way to deal with the church's problems would be to reach out and help others, which led them to establish the Giving Store.
Ms. Micham said she didn't have to reinvent the wheel, but modeled the store after ones at other churches, especially those in the United Methodist Church, which is a leader in this type of ministry.
Locally, there are free stores at Monroe Street United Methodist Church in Toledo, Pioneer United Methodist Church in Pioneer, Ohio, and St. Paul United Methodist Church in Napoleon, said Lisa Streight, a spokesman for the denomination's West Ohio Conference.
Ms. Merritt, a retired math teacher, said she tries to keep her volunteering at the Giving Store to 30 hours a week, and although she doesn't always succeed, she has no regrets. "I feel truly blessed," she said. "Every day I've been here, something happens that brings tears to my eyes."
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154.
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