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When Debra Gall saw the room full of bags bulging with donations in her church basement, an idea was formed.
Instead of the annual rummage sale at her church, Christ Church (Parish) Church, why not create a kind of store?

“My mother-in-law in South Africa ran a similar set-up from her garden,” said Debra. “She’d go around town and collect what people didn’t want.

“Here, everything was in black bags but no one could see it. But it was all here.”

Her first stop was to her rector, the Rev. Canon Wandlyn Snelgrove.

“She said ‘if it works, great. If not, we haven’t lost anything,’” said Debra.

Wandlyn had heard about a similar project during the small group discussion at the 2022 Diocesan Synod, so she knew there was a track record of success elsewhere. 

“I put the idea out to the Parish and the rest is history,” said Wandlyn.    

With the makings of a charity shop getting the OK from vestry and rector, Debra began to organize.

“First we had half a room and two rails for clothes,” she said. “Then the donations started coming it. There was lots of support for it.”

The Church Closet now takes up an entire large room. It opened April 14 last year and its operating hours are Fridays 8:30 to noon and Saturdays 10 until noon. 

Since its opening, Debra has met scores of people, including many associated with the Multicultural Association of Fredericton. That group uses the church basement for food distribution on Friday mornings, and their clients often stop in to shop for clothes, accessories, housewares, books and other items.

“They’re happy to give a dollar or two, but we’re quite sensitive to need.”

Donations keep coming — from parishioners and even customers. Besides the usual, they’ve received a stroller, microwave, toasters, a sewing machine and other items that are quickly snapped up. 

“It’s mainly clothes, but with a nice selection of trinkets,” said Debra.

Debra isn’t the only one maintaining the shop. She has Saturday helpers, Bernadette Coburn, Shirley Robinson and Susan White.

She also had her mother helping set up the shop, and now she’s a customer. Debra also credits Hazel Surgenor, CCPC’s administrative assistant, with marketing.

“Hazel’s been brilliant with her support,” said Debra. “She tells people about us, and she brings people down as well.”

When the idea of the shop was being discussed, Debra had to think about where the revenue would go. 

“Rev. Wandlyn said I could choose, so I chose church outreach,” said Debra.

Profits from The Church Closet have helped fund the Christmas White Gift project, which assists families in need whose children attend Connaught Street School.

“With the bazaar, the Closet funds and parishioners, we’re at our target,” she said.

At first Debra was very focussed on profits, but Wandlyn reminded her that it’s not about the money, she said. Nevertheless, since May of last year, Debra has remitted $1,447 in profits to the church bookkeeper. 

“That’s all money we wouldn’t have had, and as Rev. Wandlyn says, so much more has come out of this.”

The benefits have not only helped shoppers who need a more affordable alternative to new goods, but also Debra herself.

“I’m getting a tremendous satisfaction and blessings as well,” she said. “Meeting the people who come in here and hearing their stories is wonderful. And on the grand world environmental stage, we’re repackaging and reusing. 

“It’s a lot of satisfaction on many levels.”

Wandlyn is pleased and impressed with the shop’s success.

“It’s a great resource for people who drop by the church looking for something warm to wear, whether it is a jacket, socks, boots or mittens,” she said.  “Our parishioners have been more than generous with their offerings of everything from clothing to dishes. Our "closet" is brimming with donations.  

“We even do a little shopping ourselves sometimes to support the cause.”

PHOTO CAPTIONS
1.  Debra Gall pictured here, surrounded by the inventory at The Church Closet, a second-hand shop in the basement of her church, Christ Church (Parish) Church.

2. The inventory is varied but mostly clothing and accessories.

McKnight photos


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