By Gaye Bunderson
Imagine a store packed full of nice things.
That’s not hard to do; there are many stores like that. Now imagine that anybody can walk into the store and find something worth purchasing without spending ‘an arm and a leg’, and that any money they spend goes toward helping other people in the community. What kind of store is that? Well, The Grace Place in Nampa fits the description to a tee.
Located at 16470 N. Franklin Blvd. in Nampa, the store has been overseen by Operations Manager Craig Eshelman for 12 years. Eshelman brings to the position 25 years of experience working in retail at the Emporium in Oregon, as well as a heart for ministry, with experience as a church administrator and an executive pastor. (Abby Silva is store manager. The complete name of the store is The Grace Place Love INC Resale Shoppe, but it is most generally known as just The Grace Place.)
The primary mission of the store – and its main motto – is to help churches help people. The store is tied to Love INC of Treasure Valley, not only in location but in purpose. On the Mission page of Love INC’s website at loveinctv.org, a statement reads, in part:
“Our mission is to mobilize local churches to transform lives and communities In the Name of Christ. Simply put, this translates to Helping Churches Help People. Love INC of Treasure Valley partners with dozens of local churches and hundreds of Christian volunteers who actively engage in verified service opportunities …”
The Grace Place is the principal source of monetary aid for Love INC of Treasure Valley, and Love INC is its chief reason for existing. “The store is the major support for funding,” said Eshelman.
The relationship between the two entities allows Love INC to do what it does, and it’s a layered approach to help people in need, referred to as “clients”.
Explained Eshelman, “Love INC has a phone bank that starts in tiers. First is people who are in need of something, such as furniture or clothing; then, we build a relationship with them.”
Staff gets to know the clients, help them, and care for them.
“Then we restore hope,” Eshelman said. That may look different to each client in order to meet their diverse needs.
“Thursday nights are nights for life skills classes. There are 20 different options,” said the operations manager.
Life skills may include how to look for work, handle finances wisely, and parent well. “We can provide them with a coach or mentor. We also help them find church resources for such things as addictions. They can stay in the programs for 18 months; and if, for instance, they’re working their way out of debt, we try to help them learn better money management. A large percentage learn to live without going into debt again.”
Clients must show a verifiable need for what is given to them through the store – be it couches, clothing, or other items – and that requires a voucher that must be presented in-store as ‘payment’ for goods.
Love INC teams up with roughly 48 churches, including some in Nampa, Caldwell, Eagle, Meridian, Greenleaf, Homedale, Wilder, Middleton, Star, Parma, and Roswell. [See the list at https://www.loveinctv.org/wp/community/churches/]
It’s definitely a church-based network, but someone may occasionally be referred for help outside the church when necessary.
One thing neither Love INC nor The Grace Place ever does is require a statement of faith from clients (and certainly not from shoppers). “That is totally up to them,” said Eshelman, “but we are unapologetic about our faith. We’re very Christian and very biblical.”
But let’s get back to the store and how it functions. It’s a place that has several rooms and sells everything from books to clothes to chests of drawers and more. The store has spread out over the past nine years and is spacious and clean. “We’ve been very blessed,” Eshelman said.
The store gets its merchandise through donations. What helps Grace Place deal with the influx of items, some of which may not be particularly clean or in great shape, is its volunteer team of 120 people (give or take, depending on time of year and other variables).
The volunteers put some love and care – cleaning, refurbishing and repairing – into many of the things that are donated. There is an on-site workroom where volunteers with carpentry and fix-it skills put quality back into the products. “If things are in a state of disrepair, they can turn them into jewels,” Eshelman said.
Grace Place also has a volunteer team that sews, and some washers and dryers that they might use on a limited basis to clean cloth items. “We try to be good stewards of the things people donate,” Eshelman said.
He also has a “team of gentlemen”, as he calls them, that delivers large and heavy items to Love INC clients on a twice-weekly basis and also picks up bigger, harder-to-lift donated items as well.
Like any good, successful store, Grace Place stays current with the seasons. This past April, staff put out Easter décor and merchandise; and come Christmas, they’ll be displaying yuletide items for decoration or for purchase.
“We are always working off-season, too,” said Eshelman, explaining they won’t be selling summer clothing come fall or vice versa.
“We have storage on-site,” he said.
The store keeps order thanks to the generosity of its volunteers. “We have teams that move things like off-season clothing, and it gets messy sometimes.”
The Grace Place holds frequent sales and clearance events. Sales are generally once a month and include parking lot sales. “We’ve been doing that for the last seven years.”
Without a doubt, The Grace Place will keep functioning for a long time to come, and by extension, so will Love INC of Treasure Valley. Stated Eshelman, “The community at large supports us; we have a very good reputation in the community and in the neighborhood.” And of course the dozens of churches it partners with will always need and provide backing and support as well.
As for Eshelman, he’ll keep overseeing the operation. Asked if he stays very busy at work, he replied, “It’s certainly a full-time job.”
For more information, go to https://www.facebook.com/TheGracePlaceNampa/.