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Finding kindness at the thrift shop

Outside of UM Thrift Shop in Union City, MI

Union City United Methodist Church’s thrift shop blesses this small Michigan community through acts of kindness and care and provides a way for volunteers to live out their faith in practical, welcoming ways.

JAMES DEATON
Content Editor

At seventy-seven, Jackie Myers has given much of her life to volunteering at the United Methodist Thrift Shop in Union City. And the spirit of joy and gratitude she witnesses from customers who shop there has kept her coming back for forty years.

“When you’re a cashier, and you see the look on a kid’s face when they can afford to buy something. And just how thankful the people are that come in and say thank you for this, for that. It just makes you feel good,” she says.

The United Methodist Thrift Shop has been a fixture in downtown Union City for 60 years. Through acts of kindness and care, this ministry has blessed the people of this small community, located 30 minutes south of Battle Creek, and even beyond. And it provides a way for people like Jackie to live out their faith in practical, welcoming ways.

The thrift shop serves Union City and the surrounding area by accepting donations of clothing, household goods, and small furniture and then offering them for resale at reasonable prices. It also sells repurposed cotton fabric as shop rags to local businesses like car repair shops.

All profits are used to support mission projects as determined by the Union City UMC’s United Women in Faith unit, which manages the store’s operations.

Profits help fund community Christmas baskets providing a whole Christmas dinner and toys for children for those in the community who are in need. Other organizations that have received financial donations include the South Michigan Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity of Michigan, and Inasmuch House in Battle Creek, which provides emergency food and shelter to women and children.

Inside the Union City Thrift Shop
The United Methodist Thrift Shop is in the old Hensley’s Dime Store building in downtown Union City. It is a fun place for all, especially families, to browse and find good deals. ~ photo courtesy Chris Mathis, Village Manager of Union City

In 1962, three women—Mae Cuyler, Pearl Ockerman, and Flora Wertz—had the idea of an ongoing rummage sale to raise money for mission. Other women joined them to help sort, price, and move the clothing. There was no permanent location then, so they sold their items of clothing and merchandise out of whatever garage, barn, or building was suitable at the time.

That seed that was planted 60 years ago has been nourished over the years by a host of faithful church and community volunteers who have a desire to see this thrift shop continue to thrive.

In 1972, an upstairs space across the street from the thrift shop’s current location was purchased with receipts from the traveling rummage sale. The name was then changed to Thrift Shop, and it stayed at that location until November 29, 2009, when a fire broke out in the building, permanently damaging the store and three other buildings surrounding it.

The thrift shop was on the move again, as it found a temporary space thanks to the generosity of Don and Pattie Needham, owners of Needham’s Flooring on M-60. Within days volunteers had the thrift shop up and running, continuing its mission.

Then about eight months after the fire, the United Methodist Thrift Shop found a new home in the old Hensley’s Dime Store building, the thrift shop’s current location.

Working at the Union City Thrift Shop
The thrift shop is run by a team of dedicated volunteers from Union City UMC and the community. Roger Dagenais (left), one of the volunteers, speaks with customer Fred Edwards (right). ~ photo courtesy Chris Mathis, Village Manager of Union City

For Jackie Myers, volunteering at the thrift shop is how she lives out her faith. “I’m not very good at evangelism,” she admits. “I can’t go out and talk to people about Jesus. But I feel like I can do this.”

She remarks on the many small yet meaningful acts of kindness the store provides to all who visit.

The thrift shop sells books, but any child can have one free book to take home. The cashiers used to pay for the books themselves, but eventually, it became an unofficial policy.

There’s also an old gumball machine from the days the building was a five-and-dime. Next to it is a stack of pennies so children can see how the old machine works and get a free gumball.

Having children visit the thrift shop is always a treat, especially during seasonal times. For Halloween, the thrift store volunteers love bringing out the many boxes of decorations and costumes for shoppers to browse through.

Jackie notes, “I had one family come in today with five kids. And the kids just had a wonderful time. One little girl bought this big pumpkin. She said, my daddy calls me Pumpkin.”

Teachers often come to the store looking for things for crafts or activities. The items are generally free if they are to be used for the teacher’s class.

People who have experienced a disaster like a flood or lost everything in a fire get free clothing—two outfits for every household member—and a $25 voucher for household items.

The thrift store always has two racks of free clothing for anyone who needs them. These items are stained or damaged in small ways but completely wearable.

A few years ago, Jackie remembers a woman who came in and immediately began gathering armfuls of clothes. She was crying and said she had just had a baby two months early and didn’t have any clothes for it. The woman was so grateful to have found the thrift store. Jackie said, “After that, there was no way that we could not have a free rack.”

In the summertime, volunteers or friends of the thrift shop often bring in fresh garden vegetables like sweet corn, cucumbers, and tomatoes, as well as eggs, to give away.

The thrift shop also gives old blankets, winter coats, jeans, and other warm items they cannot sell to the Humane Society of Branch County for animal bedding.

These are just a few ways the United Methodist Thrift Shop is blessing the community and finding a purpose in Union City to reach out to the community in care and kindness.

Jackie feels the thrift shop is helping keep the downtown alive. “If you come to our town on the days we’re not open, there are very few cars,” she says. “This morning, I came into town [to volunteer at the shop] and every parking spot down two blocks was full of cars. We are a big draw.”

The United Methodist Thrift Shop is located at 217-219 N. Broadway St. in Union City. Hours of operation are Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday, from 9 am to 3 pm, and Friday, from 9 am to 6 pm.

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