'We sell items, but we give love': Op Shops serve struggling locals

It is 10 on Monday morning, and an Op Shop is already bustling at Ingleburn, an outer suburb of Sydney. A mother and daughter come in looking for the community pantry within the store run by Anglicare, where they can fill a bag of groceries for $10.

A woman asks the shop’s manager, Mardi*, what size the shoes are displayed in the window.

Mardi answers queries with a smile and she sees it as part of her job to listen.

“People don’t just come in here for the clothes or the food.” Often, people come into the store with hardships such as loss, illness, grief or addiction.

“Immediately I just offer a cup of tea,” Mardi says. “They’ll just look relaxed [after that], because if someone is taking time out of their day to do something for you like make a cup of tea, then you’re important. You know someone cares about you.”

In South West Sydney, this is a local store for the community to feel welcomed and loved. Mardi tells all of her new volunteers: “We sell items, but we give love. We give love, we give understanding, we give caring.”

Anglicare’s Op Shops in South West Sydney are spots for locals to find affordable clothing and accessories, or pick up discounted groceries at the community pantry.

Once COVID-19 restrictions ease, the staff and volunteers have plans to open up the cosy area at the back of the store as a community hub. Mardi looks forward to one day welcoming play groups and knitting clubs to meet there.

Until then, the message to Ingleburn locals from Mardi and her team is they are always welcome at the store. “We are here any time. If you need to come back, if you’re ever just having a rough day, if you just feel that you want to get out of the house and you need somewhere to go, come and chat with us and I’ll make you a cup of tea.”

Sarah believes that showing love to customers can change their lives.

In nearby Campbelltown, another Op Shop fun by Anglicare is a well-established hub for locals. Shop Manager Sarah* has seen both the joys and hardships of her customer’s lives over years. “I’ve seen pregnant bellies and babies. Babies born and babies go to school”.

Often, she encounters stories of suffering, too, with people coming to her in the midst of domestic violence, homelessness and illness. She considers it a blessing to be able to not only provide for the physical needs of locals, but to share her faith with them, too. “I’m just so blessed that I can do that here. You can pray for people, you can shine God’s light on their situation where there’s no hope.”

As people pass the shop, they stop to have a chat and to share how they’re going.

Like Mardi, Sarah has a smile ready for every person who walks by. She believes that showing love to customers can change their lives. “I hope that they are touched by God’s love, and that they know that there’s a place that they can come back to if they need any support.”

*Surname withheld upon request.

Hayley Lukabyo is Media and Policy Officer at Anglicare Sydney.

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