Garage sale for God

Date Posted: 8/11/2022


By Ronnie Crocker En Español
 
Diane Sullivan feels blessed to live in Deer Park, a leafy Houston suburb buoyed by a petrochemical industry that keeps the local schools, libraries, and other city services well-funded. Household income is above the state average, and the poverty rate is just 6.6 percent. “It’s an area where you’d want to live, especially if you have kids,” says Sullivan, who eight years ago moved back to the community of 35,000 with her husband, a Deer Park native.
 
She also believes in passing the blessings on to the less fortunate. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday, for example, volunteers at Deer Park United Methodist Church staff the onsite Deer Park Community Food Pantry for people in the public school system. Sullivan recounts one instance, during the depths of the pandemic, when she was alerted by a school counselor to a single mom who had contracted Covid and with her two children “went through the entire weekend living on chips and crackers.”
 
The church stepped up to make sure the family had enough to eat while the mother got back on her feet, Sullivan says. The relationship with counselors and other Deer Park ISD officials remains close and ongoing. “We serve a lot of people,” she says.
 
Recently, Deer Park UMC hosted a mammoth community garage sale that filled the 6,000-square-foot gym in its Family Life Center and generated about $15,000 to support the church’s outreach programs and other local charities. “It’s a huge setup,” Sullivan says of the annual sale, which offers vetted, affordable items to teachers and other back-to-school shoppers, especially.
 
This year’s garage sale put more than 60 volunteers to work for seven days, the first four of which were spent setting up. Sullivan’s husband built the display racks for clothes and church members went through more than 1,000 donated items and arranged them in separate “departments,” including books, housewares, toys, linens, electronics, and decorations for teachers seeking to spiff up their classrooms on a budget. "This is very organized, and it has to be,” Sullivan says. Shoes required their own separate room. Sporting goods were stored outdoors. “We even have a jewelry department,” Sullivan says.
 
Preparing for the three-day sale, which is scheduled each year a couple of weeks prior to the opening of the school year, also allows church members to get to know one another better. Working together and sharing a daily meal for a week can build relationships among folks who don’t necessarily see each other when they’re seated in the pews.
 
“The thing about it is, it’s just good fellowship,” Sullivan says. “We get to see other members we don’t get to see on Sundays because we may sit across the church from them.”
 
In other words, everyone receives something special.
 
Teachers are always invited to come in a day before the garage sale is opened to the public. The educators are given their choice of books, as well as a half-off discount on classroom decorations. Sullivan was struck this year by a kindergarten teacher who approached the checkout line with a full load and, it was apparent to all, an even fuller heart.
 
“One thing we learned during the pandemic is that teachers don’t get paid enough,” Sullivan says.
 
The funds raised during the sale will benefit folks far and near. The church has sent contributions to war-torn Ukraine and to people living in Lake Charles, Louisiana, after it was walloped by hurricanes. Closer to home, the funds also pay for “manna bags” filled with essentials and given out to unhoused people in the area. Donations have been made to the Houston International Seafarers’ Center in La Porte and to Unbound Now Houston, which combats human sex trafficking and helps its victims.
 
Deer Park United Methodist is part of the Texas Annual Conference, which includes 635 churches in eastern and southeastern Texas.
 
After the community garage sale wrapped up this year, leftover clothing and other items were donated to Clothed By Faith and Arms Of Hope. Baby items were given to the Gabriel Project.
 
Sullivan, a former process operator and training coordinator, now retired from Exxon Mobil, is keenly aware of the ways industry has helped her small town earn its reputation for good schools and family-friendliness. She’s grateful, too.
 
“I think overall our community is in pretty good shape,” she says.
 
She and her fellow congregants happily pass the blessings on.
 
Learn more about Deer Park United Methodist Church at dpumc.org.