By SUSAN LYNCH
The United Methodist Opportunity Store invites everyone to the store on Sept. 5th as they celebrate 75 years of blessings.
Seventy-five years ago a young Methodist minister by the name of Rev. John Lewis had a vision. This vision was to help the people of rural mountain towns in Eastern Kentucky by providing affordable clothing, shoes, and household items.
Lewis had seen firsthand the needs of others being met by the Save the Children Federation and felt that the Methodist Churches of Kentucky could do something similar to help even more people.
In 1943, this vision came to life!
Following the philosophy that “It is better to charge a moderate price than to give items away, as sometimes a gift of such is demeaning; and being able to pay a small price for the merchandise reflects pride of ownership,” Lewis set out to make a change for the better of the people in the mountains.
His vision flourished! Not only did the Methodist Opportunity Stores begin helping others in need of items but employment opportunities began to open up as well. People were needed to pick up items, wash clothing, sort items, and also box them. Lewis’s vision grew into the mission that we see today.
Today there are eight Mission Stores in operation. Along with the Irvine store which was opened in 1994, there are also locations in Barbourville, Harlan, Hazard, Jackson/Breathitt, Pineville, West Liberty, and Burkesville. Between the stores and the processing plant the Mission provides a source of employment for around 70 families.
The Mission’s decisions are filtered through a board of around 20 individuals. Director Karen Bunn, who began working with the mission in 2000, and her husband Pastor John Bunn do an amazing job keeping Lewis’s vision alive. John also pastors two of the missions’ supporting churches; Hampton United Methodist and Wolverine United Methodist, both in Breathitt County.
Thanks to the dedication of some amazing people the small operation that began in 1943 now has over 900 churches located in Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania that contribute materials to help the mission operate.
Norma Strong has been employed by the mission for 37 years. She said the mission has grown in operation tremendously in the last 37 years, especially in the processing and plant areas.
“They have become so much more efficient and effective,” she said.
“I really do love my job,” said Strong. “I was so desperate when I came to the mission. Coal was booming and my husband was running a strip job, but we needed the money. I came to the mission for the money, but I stayed for the people.”
When the Mission began its work 75 years ago, Rev. Lewis started with no support except that of God Almighty, and no salary. Today, through the generosity of God’s people, the support of the store sales, and other donations, God’s Mission continues to thrive. God has provided graciously and abundantly in the past and the Mission trusts in His guidance and blessings for the present and the future.
To learn more about the Mission or to schedule a tour of the main facility, call 606-666-7795 and speak to Andy.
The Irvine Opportunity Store also invites everyone to the store on Sept. 5th from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. as they celebrate 75 years of blessings. Refreshments will be offered and door prizes will be awarded throughout the day.