One of the duties of Grace Church vestry members is a volunteer stint twice a year at the Pennyworth Shop, Grace’s 61-year-old “community thrift store” ministry in downtown Silver Spring. I’m usually a middle-aged male cliché when it comes to shopping: a mall at Christmas is one of the lower circles of Hell to me. But Pennyworth is more than a retail shop and working there has become more than a responsibility; it’s now an opportunity I look forward to and a reinforcement of why I belong to a faith community like Grace.
A rich life is one filled with stories. And like most happy, healthy 61-year-olds, Pennyworth has countless stories to tell. My family, including three teen and pre-teen kids, always comes home from Pennyworth with at least one story to share.
Sometimes they’re poignant. Like the father shopping for a gently-used toy with his young son, telling him that he can only choose a single dollar-priced item because they don’t have money for more.
Sometimes they’re inspiring. Like the young man who came in looking for a clean shirt for a job interview that day. After one of the volunteers helped him find the right item, he realized he didn’t have enough money for the purchase. He was asked to, please, wear the shirt, and when he got the job please come back and pay for it. Sure enough, he came back two weeks later with a new job and the money to pay for the shirt.
And sometimes, many times, they’re light-hearted, even comical, reflecting the rich diversity of what comes in and goes out of a store in an eclectic community like downtown Silver Spring. One time, we opened a donation bag to find a pristine Marie Osmond doll inside a satiny box. Trying to price it for sale, we thought, this is like a Warholian found object, how can we value it? It’s priceless. I think we settled on five dollars - and it was gone next time I came in. Later, explaining my excitement - and Marie Osmond - to my kids, I sang “Morning Side of the Mountain,” to blank stares.
Last year, the Grace youth group paid homage to Pennyworth’s 60th birthday by producing a G-rated video of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” on location, using clothes, other Pennyworth props, and various members of the Grace community including the rector dressed up like Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch. It was hilarious, they sent a copy to the artist, and it garnered a kind recognition letter from the rapper’s manager.
Pennyworth provides a lot more than community outreach. It’s a way for many retired parishioners to stay involved both in church and civic life. There’s a sale on Earth Day, reinforcing the message that sustainability is possible in many things, including retail purchases. And Pennyworth’s popularity and success provides the resources to support a number of other ministries at Grace including our dynamic children’s choir, the homeless ministry, as well as our newly-launched capital campaign.
February is Pennyworth’s birth month. If you’re in downtown Silver Spring this month, consider stopping by for some gently-used items, some fellowship, and to wish Pennyworth a happy month. I might see you there.
Paul Brown is a member of Grace Episcopal Church in Silver Spring.