Good Shepherd Buys Sunshine Plaza

 In a landmark decision to expand one of its core ministries, the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd has purchased the retail facility located at 1714 N. Ft. Harrison, in the nearby Greenwood neighborhood of northwest Clearwater, Fla, appropriately known as Sunshine Plaza.

“We were made up of only a few volunteers when we started. Now we have over 20 volunteers, employ four individuals from the local community and will soon welcome a store manager in the month ahead,” according to Gus Robbins-Penniman, the store’s founder and ministry leader. “Our team picks up donations of furniture and other household items throughout Pinellas County for free and resells them at the shop for modest prices. But more than reselling furniture, we provide hope and a sense of community to a neighborhood that is hungry for both. One of the intangibles provided by this ministry is conversation and compassion. There’s not a day that goes by when someone from the local neighborhood doesn’t stop in just to say hello to a welcoming and supportive group of new friends.”

When he approached the church leadership about the idea back in 2010, Robbins-Penniman was armed with a background in property management, prior experience with the Lamb of God Thrift Store in the San Carlos district of Ft. Myers, Florida, and a dream of making the same thing happen in Dunedin. He signed a lease for the first 1,000 square feet in January, 2012. In the last six years, the furniture store has grown to 6,500 square feet, and with an average sales growth rate of 53% per year it has generated over $465,000 in revenue. This is significant, but more importantly the store has contributed $267,000 to local charities during this time.

“Today, most churches depend on their volunteers and not just Sunday morning collections to support the ministries they believe in,” according to Good Shepherd’s treasurer Joe Nixon. “We have been blessed by having members who have stepped up to the challenge. Just last year we logged over 12,500 hours of volunteer time to support our ministries. This commitment has enable us to not only serve the Greenwood community, but also assist our other ministries such as Grace House, providing transitional housing for families who have recently lost their home, Haven House, providing shelter for battered persons, Resurrection House Mission in Dade City, Florida, serving farm workers, and Meals of Hope and Pack-a-Sack, both providing food to those in need.”

With all of this pointing in the right direction, making the decision to purchase and own the facility was still a tough choice. To have a better understanding of the way forward, the Vestry invited all of the parishioners to a town hall meeting. Nearly 80 members attended – some expressed their optimism, others were not so optimistic. The tipping point came when the congregation realized that the increased rental structure would put unnecessary pressure on the ministry’s ability to serve the community. At the end of the day the town hall meeting was seen as a marked success – all had their concerns addressed and expressed confidence that the Vestry would make the right decision on behalf of the parish.

Looking forward, the future is indeed bright for Sunshine Plaza and the ministries it supports. Store operations will continue to be reviewed by its own Board of Directors, with additional oversight by the parish Vestry. Day-to-day activities will be handled by a professional store manager, and the expanded space will allow for additional donations by a generous community – just by dialing 727-600-5820. With the threat of surging rental rates now eliminated by the store owning the facility, expectations are even higher that this ministry will continue to grow and help those in need even more than it has in the past.

About the Furniture Thrift Store, a Ministry of the Church of the Good Shepherd
The Furniture Thrift Store sells a full range of second-hand products, such as furniture, appliances, clothing, kitchen utensils, and various sundries. These products are intended for people from the neighborhood who otherwise could not afford them. The Furniture Thrift Store owns two trucks, and provides free pick-up by calling 727-600-5820.

The Furniture Thrift Store is overseen by the Church of the Good Shepherd, a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Florida. Established in December, 1886, Good Shepherd has served the greater Dunedin area with a tradition of caring since its inception. Members of this parish are committed to living in a world where all creation thrives in God’s love by worshipping joyfully, respecting all, sharing generously and nurturing every spirit.

Additional information on both The Furniture Thrift Store and the Church of Good Shepherd is available by contacting:

639 Edgewater Drive • Dunedin, Florida 34698 • 727-733-4125


Posted in DCO News, Dunedin & Pinellas News, Member News and tagged , .

Larry Franklin