By Luanne Williams, for the SNAP
Sunday, December 15, 2013 —
A ministry that began 17 years ago as a yard sale to help a family displaced by a house fire is recovering from its own Thursday morning blaze.
Robert Britt, managing director of West Stanly Christian Ministries, said he’s not sure when the organization’s thrift store will reopen, but that the fire will not stop the Christ-centered ministry from helping those in need with everything from utility bills and food to clothing and medicine.
“I met with the staff, and we read from 1 Cor. 3 about being tested by fire,” Britt said early Thursday afternoon.
“I told them, we’re going to continue to do what we set out to do. The priorities we had set over the next few days are still our priorities, to serve this community and get out the message of hope, which is really what the Christmas message is. We are not going to let a fire get in our way.”
Located at 100 S. Love Chapel Road, West Stanly Christian Ministries is most known for the huge store, which includes more than 20,000 square feet of sales floor in the former Allison’s Manufacturing building. That’s where Britt, his dozen staff members and numerous volunteers recycle clothing, electronics, furniture, glassware, toys, hardware, books and more for resale and sort donations for the organization’s food pantry.
It’s also where Britt and his financial secretary, Tammy Burleson, assess clients’ immediate needs and help put them on a path toward stability.
“One of the things we are trying to focus on now more than ever is to really look at what it takes to transform someone’s life,” Britt said.
“The help they need may not necessarily be the help they are asking for. You can throw money at a problem, but 30, 60 or 90 days down the road, what’s going to have changed?”
He said the goal is not just to meet the urgent need, but to help clients take ownership of their problems and plug into whatever agencies or programs can help them move forward. Whether it’s budget planning, insurance or whatever they need to get on a solid footing, the objective is to help them avoid what can become a cycle of dependence.
“I tell people that West Stanly Christian Ministries is a crisis assistance ministry, not a chronic assistance ministry,” Britt explained.
He said not everyone who seeks help wants to address larger issues such as spending habits, but many are agreeable to the process.
Whatever need is presented, Britt said his ultimate goal is to “usher them toward a deeper, meaningful relationship to Christ.”
“We look at Jesus’ two big commandments and really consider what it means to be a follower of Christ — love God and love people. So we serve the Lord through serving the community,” said Britt, 43, who worked in real estate and Sam’s Club management before taking the helm at WSCM. He said he’s truly thankful for the work of his predecessor, Patsy Street, who retired in early July.
“She laid a wonderful foundation and did a phenomenal job,” Britt said.
“I have the utmost respect for Patsy Street.”
He said that under her watch, the ministry moved three or four times over the years, growing with each move.
“As it has grown and word of mouth has let people know about it, resources have broadened as well,” Britt said, citing local churches for their “tremendous support.”
But it’s the thrift store — usually open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays, but now closed because of the fire — that generates the bulk of the ministry’s budget.
On a recent Wednesday, the store was bustling as customers tried on clothes, perused book shelves and browsed in the newly-opened Christmas section, and workers sorted donations to get them ready for display. Eleven-year volunteer Libby Welch helped Lynn Huneycutt and Jimmy Metcalf put clothes on hangers, while new employee Maria Berardelli brought out a rack of men’s slacks to the sales floor.
Britt had high praise for his team of employees and volunteers and said the store is an integral part of the ministry, not just because of sales volume, but because it allows local families to shop affordably. He said one of his challenges is to balance requests for special donations, such as coats for mission trips, with the need to keep plenty of quality merchandise on the sales floor.
“We want to meet every need, but we also have to keep in mind the mother who says, ‘I know I can go to the thrift store and buy a $5 coat for my kid,’ ” he said.
“So it’s a balance of giving and also of providing low-cost merchandise.”
He said the store does not mark up brand name items.
“This is a place were kids can go and get some name-brand stuff — American Eagle, Aeropostale — without exorbitant prices,” he said.
“We could charge more, but we want to make sure folks that only have a few dollars to spend can get what they want.”
What he wants for the ministry is more volunteer help in the store, increased community awareness so that needs can continue to be met efficiently and even more networking among churches and WSCM so that efforts are coordinated and God is glorified.
Although he said there is currently little waste with the thrift store, some donations, such as broken electronics, dilapidated furniture, worn out mattresses or box springs and out-of-date food, can’t be used and have to be hauled off at the ministry’s expense.
“We love to get good furniture, something we can clean, throw a screw in and sell,” he said.
“But some things just can’t be used and become a burden.”
He said food donations are always needed, and anyone who would like to receive occasional e-mail updates on what items are particularly scarce may contact him at weststanlychristian@ gmailcom or visit the ministry’s Facebook page.
That’s where Britt will post updates regarding the organization’s recovery from the accidental fire that happened Thursday morning. He said people requesting assistance can still phone (704) 888-6406, but that response may not be immediate.
“We will do the best we can,” Britt added, asking for friends of the ministry to continue to pray for a quick reopening and for patience for all concerned as damages are assessed and dealt with.
He said financial donations to the ministry would also be much appreciated during this difficult time.
Luanne Williams is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.