Following in her mother's footsteps, Martha Lewis enjoys making connections with others at the Cartersville-Bartow Community Church Shop. Currently serving as the organization's board president, the Cartersville native has volunteered at the nonprofit since 2000.
"[I enjoy] getting to know other people, [making] new friends … and to be able to help people that come in — not just to … shop, but that come in that really need our help," Lewis said. "Last week, we had a senior citizen to come in. A young lady had brought her in, and the [older] lady was barely able to get around. She told me she had been in the hospital for quite a while with pneumonia. While she was in the hospital, her caretaker moved … all her [furniture] out, and she [did not] know where it went — clothes and all.
"So, she came in, and we had another customer in there shopping, and she heard the lady telling us the story and she offered … to help buy the lady some clothes. … We were able to give that lady clothes, pants, tops. … [I am overjoyed] to know that there are people in our community that may not have much [themselves], but they're willing to help their neighbor in their time of need."
A fixture for nearly 30 years on West Main Street in downtown Cartersville, the nonprofit sells a wide variety of donated items, such as clothing, books and kitchen utensils. Prices range from $1 to $5 for shoes, to 25 cents to $3 for toys, to 25 cents to $3.50 for clothing.
"The community clothes shop was started as an outreach ministry to the needy by First Presbyterian Church, using an upstairs room in the church," said Sharon Dabbs, secretary for the Community Church Shop's board of directors. "… First Presbyterian Church committee members May Smith, Del Howell, Joe Nelson Sr., Margaretta Shaw, Pauline Pierce and Anne Gray created this ministry in 1965. Later, a multi-church membership formed, including Atco Baptist Church, Faith United Methodist Church, Bartow-Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Cartersville Christian Church, Cartersville Church of God and First Presbyterian Church."
Along with the nonprofit's board, the Community Church Shop is governed by its church general membership, which includes The Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Faith United Methodist Church, First Presbyterian Church, Grace Baptist Church, Heritage Baptist Church, The Church at Liberty Square, Mt. Zion Baptist Church, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Trinity United Methodist Church, White United Methodist Church and Woffords Crossroads Baptist Church. Volunteers from the participating churches, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sign up to work three-hour shifts on one or multiple days during the month to help Manager Arlene Whybark run the outreach ministry.
The church shop presently operates at 21 W. Main St. in a building that was donated to the nonprofit around 1990. The store has called several locations home since the ’60s, including the J.C. Building, Braban Hotel, a residence near the First Presbyterian Church of Cartersville and the parsonage of Gilmer Street Baptist Church.
"The Cartersville-Bartow Community Church Shop Inc. strives to serve those in need throughout Bartow County by providing them an opportunity to purchase, at an affordable price, gently-used clothes and small household items donated by churches and individuals," said Dabbs, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church. "Net proceeds from these sales are exclusively donated to local shelters and designated charitable organizations.
"The shop also provides clothing and household items free of charge to needy individuals and families referred by local nonprofit organizations, thus rendering a valuable service. Each family member may select clothing items to complete three outfits at no cost. The shop often receives referrals from charity organizations, such as Tranquility House and the Red Cross, or from [Division of Family and Children Services]. Shop volunteers assist these individuals in finding appropriate clothing and needed household items."
She continued, "I derive a great deal of personal satisfaction from being involved with helping those in need to acquire nice, clean clothing and other necessities, donated by a very generous local community, at a very low cost. … I particularly remember assisting a woman whose family lost their home to a fire. She was referred to the shop by the Red Cross. It was heartwarming to be able to help her find clothes and household items, at no cost to her. She repeatedly expressed how grateful she was for our assistance."
As Dabbs noted, the Community Church Shop supports various charitable efforts in the community, such as a layettes ministry for Bartow Family Resources, with its proceeds.
In 2017, the nonprofit's proceeds — after paying the manager's salary and operating expenses — totaled $5,400 and were distributed amongst the Bartow County Community Resource Office, Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, the Christian League for Battered Women’s Tranquility House and Bartow Family Resources.
Due to a $4,000 surplus in funds, the Community Church Shop also donated financially to seven organizations in December: Bartow County Community Resource Office, Bartow Family Resources, Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter, Tranquility House, Etowah Valley Humane Society, Hickory Log Vocational School and Cartersville Church Community Meals on Wheels.
"We were thrilled to receive the gift from the church shop," said Jessica Mitcham, executive director of the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter. "The church shop sends a $100/month donation check in the mail every single month to support our efforts. The hours of work all of their volunteers put into helping the shop operate and meet the needs of so many people make a huge impact on the shelter. This unusual, larger year-end gift was a blessing. In early December, the shelter partnered with Beauflor to replace all of the flooring in our entire facility. While Beauflor generously donated all of the materials, we needed to cover the expense of installation, a somewhat unexpected year-end expense. The surprise donation from the church shop helped offset some of this expense. It came at the perfect time.
"The Good Neighbor is overwhelmingly funded by our local community. We are a United Way partner agency, but we also work hard day in and day out to raise support through partnerships with individuals, local businesses, churches and foundations. The church shop has been an important partner in our work for many years, and this special gift came in perfect timing to help meet a need."
Looking forward, Lewis said the board is seeking additional churches and volunteers to come on board, which hopefully will allow the nonprofit to extend the hours of one of its operating days.
"A lot of us that volunteer there, our mothers and some of [our] grandmothers volunteered there in the earlier years," said Lewis, who is a member of The Church at Liberty Square. "I'm one of them. My mother volunteered there from our church, which at the time was the Cartersville Church of God. She volunteered there for a good while in the '70s. After being a customer of the church shop for probably around 25 or 30 years, when my late husband and I retired in 2000, I knew I wanted to have something to keep me busy. A friend of mine from our church, Penny Sitton, was already volunteering there. I told her, 'When I retired, I was going to come to work and to help her.' So, around May or June of 2000, I started volunteering on a monthly basis.
"… Especially if you are retired, it gives you an outlet, rather than just sitting at home. You get to meet new people. You get to see a lot of the needs in Cartersville and Bartow County. Right now, all the ladies that [are] on the board, we look at it as a ministry. Even though we're all from different churches and we may not all have the same doctrines ... we all agree that we're serving the same God."
To help the church shop continue its outreach ministry, the Bartow community is encouraged to donate merchandise to the store during business hours. The shop, which can be reached at 770-382-8445, is open Monday to Wednesday and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.