By Bridget Nash Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
Park Avenue Thrift is having fun helping Enid.
That is what co-founder Paula Nightengale said when she recently discussed the mission of Park Avenue, a local thrift store that does more than just sell donated items.
“We give away 100 percent of our profits to community endeavors,” she said.
Over half a million reasons
In the last 41⁄2 years, Park Avenue Thrift has donated $650,063.11 to the community, and that number continues to grow.
“We support what we call ‘The Big 5,’” Nightengale said. “That is the Enid Symphony, Gaslight Thea-tre, Leonardo’s (Discovery Warehouse), Main Street (Enid) and PEGASYS.”
More than $350,000 has been donated to “The Big 5,” but Park Avenue has given other donations to organizations such as RSVP, 4RKids, CDSA and Chautauqua and has donated more than $50,000 to education. Park Avenue also provides vouchers for thrift store items to people in need.
“We’ve given $180,000 in benevolence, where we’ve provided vouchers,” she said.
The ultimate mission of Park Avenue is to increase the quality of life in Enid.
“We think it’s the best place to live, and we want to support our hometown,” Nightengale said. “Each of us has a mandate to help those who are less fortunate.”
The idea for Park Avenue Thrift came to Nightengale and David Hume of Enid in June 2007. The city of Enid was facing possible budget cuts, and Nightengale and Hume had been looking for a mission in which to participate. They decided to start their own mission, helping Enid and the residents of the Enid.
Park Avenue Thrift was on the fast track from the moment the concept was formed.
“We got the keys to this building on July 1 (2007), and it’s been uphill all the way,” she said. “We opened on Oct. 1, 2007.”
Park Avenue Thrift had faithful volunteers help get the store ready in a few short months, she said, and now the store employs 30 people.
“Not only are we giving back to the community but we are providing jobs,” Nightengale said.
Success formed on a rotating basis
Part of Park Avenue’s success is its rotating system that allows new items on the floor every week.
“Every week we take out the oldest stuff, and every Monday a brand new sale starts,” Nightengale said.
New items are priced and a week later marked 15 percent off. The next week they are marked 30 percent off and the week after that 60 percent off. Finally they are marked as 20 cents and if they are not sold they are donated to another outlet or recycled.
Cloth, paper and metal are among items donated to be recycled.
“So, if someone has a shirt with a button off or a sheet with a stain on it, you can still bring it by and it will be recycled,” Nightengale said.
Park Avenue Thrift also reuses plastic shopping bags and gratefully accepts donation of any plastic bags.
Through monetary donations, recycling of goods and constant rotation of items, Park Avenue has been successful in its five years.
“It takes about five years to get a business going, and here we’ve already had a profit of more than half a million to give away,” Nightengale said.
Hume playfully added, “Giving away money is a tough job but someone’s got to do it.”
Remembering the faithful
Nightengale and Hume said Park Avenue Thrift never would have been the success it has become without faithful people of Enid and help from God.
Park Avenue thanks Enid by donating time and funds, but its founders thank God by providing a quiet chapel in the store that is open for anyone to visit.
“We would love for people to come in, and when they stop by take a visit in our chapel,” she said. “It’s 350 square feet of quiet.”
Enid boasts another thrift store that also makes contributions to the city through programs designed to assist local residents.
Hope Outreach not only is a local thrift store but a local organization that spends a great deal of time and resources helping various groups of people in Enid.
“We cover such a wide area of services and a wide area of need,” said Lee Langshaw, Hope Outreach community relations spokesperson. “We started out in 1991 doing community care assistance. We helped folks out who were having financial crises.”
Since 1991, Hope Outreach has broadened its service and created many new programs.
“We’ve evolved to where we’ve discovered other needs and some social services that were falling into the cracks,” Langshaw said.
Taking on a challenge
One of Hope Outreach’s ministries is its parenting ministries, a program to help young mothers, fathers and even grandparents.
“Ann Price took on that challenge about 10 years ago,” Langshaw said.
Price started the program with a trip to Colorado Springs, Colo., to study the implementation of Earn While You Learn, a parenting class for mothers to earn points at Hope Outreach’s Mommy Store for items — from clothes to furniture — needed for their babies.
The program now offers “re-parenting” classes for grandparents, as well.
“Many people may think (the parenting ministry) is only for people who are economically challenged or come from bad home situations,” said Matt Lohman, Hope Outreach executive director. “But it’s for anyone. We have a Bible study and offer a financial component for helping create a budget.”
A shelter for those in need
Hope Outreach also offers Community Care Program, which helps those in need of fuel, food or other staples. People may work in exchange for any of these items.
“We don’t hand out any cash,” Lohman said.
Lohman said Community Care’s mission is prevent people from losing utilities or homes because it is difficult to get those things back.
“(The program) is not just for the extremely downtrodden,” said Lohman. “Even people with college degrees or business owners, because of life circumstances, sometimes need help.”
Hope Outreach does not have a shelter for the homeless but they do provide a Day Center where those without homes can get out of the elements during the day and have access to a shower and a washer and dryer. They also can work for clothing vouchers.
The center also can be used for the homeless to list for a phone number or address when applying for jobs.
“It’s impossible to get a job if you don’t have a place where they can contact you,” Lohman said.
He said Hope Outreach’s staff is excited about a possible new endeavor, a new mission to help the homeless.
“We are trying to start a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week, Bridge to Life program for the homeless,” Lohman said. “This is a discipleship program and it will be very heavily Bible-based. The purpose is to address the spiritual need.”
Bridge to Life will help people with whatever circumstance led them to the situation they are in, and especially provide help with problems like addiction. It will be a free program to those who participate.
“We are still in the planning stage,” Lohman said.
Programs that focus on character
Hope Outreach’s Faith Farm is a “garden therapy” program run by Kate Morrison. Faith Farm not only provides fresh produce but allows people with handicaps to get out and help with the gardening. The garden is designed in a way that people do not have to get on the ground or bend over to tend to the plants. Anyone who wants to help, whether they have a disability or just want to volunteer, can call (580) 402-0636.
There is another ministry of Hope Outreach that helps people who have been in trouble with the law get a good employment record. While they do not hire anyone dangerous, Hope Outreach is willing to help some people who have done jail time, paid their debt to society and are having trouble finding employment because of their record.
People with a criminal record can be hired to work in the thrift store warehouse.
“We will hire people who have made some mistakes,” said Lohman. “We don’t hire anyone dangerous, but we will give a good reference if they are a good worker. It is a good opportunity to get people back on their feet. They can start proving themselves again in the community.”
An annual ministry of Hope Outreach is its abstinence program for seventh-graders. Girls have a tea time while the boys have a separate tailgate event. Speakers are invited, Lohman said, and emphasis is placed on value of the girls and strength of character for boys.
“While we are a Christian organization, we understand the separation of church and state,” Lohman said. “Since this is a school function, it is not a religious event.”
Hope Outreach’s thrift store supplies about 85 percent of Hope Outreach’s program funding, and donations to the store are appreciated.