Father Vincent Chirichella, pastor at OLG, blessed the thrift shop after the 11:45 a.m. Mass on Dec. 13. Volunteers Mimi Camera and Marie De Luca, pictured in the back, will be working in the thrift shop every Sunday. (Photos: Erin DeGregorio)
OLG Director of Faith Formation, Phyllis Niwinski, discovered two books at least 65 years old, tied them together with rope, and added a vintage “key to reading and knowledge” to the set.
Thrift store shoppers are greeted by masked volunteers, as well as a table with Our Lady of Grace’s church bulletin and other free religious items like prayer cards, magnets, and reflection books.
Father Dominick Cutrone (center), who co-founded the church's thrift shop 37 years ago, visited Phyllis Niwinski (left) and Mary Ann De Luca (right) on its opening day.
Religious pins, medals, and crucifixes/crosses are also available for purchase at the shop.
GRAVESEND — Tucked along the side of Our Lady of Grace Church is its very own thrift shop that sells gently-used household and novelty items.
It reopened on Dec. 13 under a new team of parish volunteers, after indefinitely closing in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Parishioner and church photographer Mary Ann De Luca and Director of Faith Formation Phyllis Niwinski wanted to breathe new life into the disorganized, cluttered space to help their church financially. The church’s former storage room was transformed into a thrift shop in 1983 under the leadership of Father Dominick Cutrone and the late Sister Jane Talbot, RSM, former pastoral minister. Father Cutrone said sales have usually brought in between $15,000 and $20,000 every year, with the funds going back to the church. But, one year, the shop had raised $35,000.
“I spoke at the pulpit during a Saturday night Mass to let parishioners know we’d be opening again. At the end, when I went to get my coat, a woman came up to me, saying, ‘This is for the thrift shop.’ It was two $50 bills,” De Luca said. “Another woman came up to me during another Mass, mid-aisle, and gave me a $100 check for the shop.”
“I couldn’t believe it,” she added. “People are generous, even during these times. It’s amazing.”
De Luca and Niwinski spent more than 100 hours thoroughly cleaning the space, reevaluating items already there, and adding new finds while organizing them by theme or purpose. Books, dinnerware, and picture frames line the shelves; suits, jackets, and children’s dresses hang from coat racks; children’s toys and prayer cards fill wicker baskets. But there are other treasures waiting to be found by those who stop by.
“The chocolate vendor we’ve worked with previously for our annual Christmas fair came by to look for things she could put her chocolates and parfaits in. She bought crystalware and a Santa Claus cookie jar,” De Luca said. “You never know what people need or can use.”
Similarly, Niwinski said that although some of the shop’s non-functioning items can be used solely for decor, other items can immediately take a shopper back in time.
“An item may not necessarily be valuable, money-wise, but people might recognize something familiar — like ‘My grandmother had these satin or velour ornaments on her Christmas tree,’” she said. “You see it and pick it up just because of that sentimental value.”
The shop will be open on Sundays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. until further notice.
“We’re still living through the pandemic, plus the flu season, and winter is almost here. So, we know we may have to close again for a while, depending on what happens in this area,” De Luca and Niwinski acknowledged. “But, we wanted parishioners to know that we’re here and will continue to be here. Hopefully, they’ll come, visit, and spread the word about the shop.”