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Houston's Charity Guild Shop celebrates 100 years with an army of volunteers

via Houston Chronicle

Opening the doors to the Charity Guild Shop is like embarking on a treasure hunt.

The consignment shop at 1203 Lovett is operated by the Charity Guild of Catholic Women and has something for everyone, president Ginger Niemann explained.

“The shop is big,” she said. “Downstairs is about 18,000 square feet.”

Look to the right and find furniture and a large selection of books. To the left, you’ll see racks of apparel for men and women. A “boutique” section offers high-end clothing.

“If you’re ever looking for a mink coat, at the right time of the year, this is the right place to get it,” Niemann said.

There are housewares, fine china and antiques. In the back corner resides a mish-mash.

“It’s everything from buckets and mops to Grandma’s walker,” Niemann said. “It’s worth a trip. You never know what will be back there.”

In addition to serving in a number of roles before becoming president — from cashier to customer service — Niemann is also a shopper.

“It’s so much fun to wander around the store,” she said. “And keep in mind it’s changing all the time.”

An army of volunteer women ensures that only quality items make it to the floor. The shop also consigns items. Consigners keep 60 percent of sales — if items sell in 60 days. After that, the goods are donated to the St. Vincent de Paul resale shop.

The idea is to keep the inventory moving — and seasonal.

“Once you come in, you have to come back,” Niemann said. “The merchandise rotates. And you have no idea what will be here next week.”

New members are asked to volunteer 100 hours a year.

Niemann said friends encouraged her to sign up with them 11 years ago, and she immediately fell in love with the cause.

“It’s all for the children,” she explained.

Proceeds are granted annually to a cause that supports area children.

“We make money to give it away,” Niemann said. “It’s nice to volunteer where you physically do something. We work, and we’re tired at the end of the day. Then we give all the money to charity.”

When the grant recipients are announced each year, that’s the best reward, she said.

“That’s how those organizations continue to work,” she said. “You know how much it means to them.”

A history of helping children

The Charity Guild of Catholic Women will soon celebrate 100 years of helping children in need.

The group began in 1922, with 59 women each charged with donating $1 for what now is the San José Clinic and sewing layettes to distribute to children in need.

“To this day, we still sew layettes,” Niemann said. “And pray over them as we sew.”

In the 1940s, the group adopted its formal name “Charity Guild of Catholic Women” and elected its first president.

Members who wanted to create a reliable income stream to continue helping children began brainstorming a blueprint for a consignment store with a charitable mission.

“In 1952, we opened our first little shop,” Niemann said.

The initial location for the Charity Guild Shop was on Westheimer. It later moved to Woodhead and, in 1960, landed at its current spot on Lovett.

“We’ve been here for 60 years,” Niemann said. “And the shop grew over time.”

The guild eventually purchased its adjoining property and expanded the building, adding additional parking as well. The store’s impact grew along with its footprint.

“We went from giving away a couple thousand to $500,000 a year,” she said.

The size of membership also grew, from the original 59 women to more than 600.

“Can you imagine what they would think?” Niemann ponders, picturing the founders. “It’s a sisterhood. It’s just a huge group of friends. We lift up a lot of people and very much take care of each other.”

Continuing through COVID

Niemann said the decision was made to close the shop doors and tell volunteers to stay home on March 13, 2020.

“That’s when COVID started for me,” she said.

When the store finally reopened that June, a significant challenge faced the women.

“We had racks and racks of stuff that had been just sitting there,” Niemann said. “We basically had a floor sale.”

There were $1, $3 and $5 racks.

“We were just trying to clear out merchandise,” Niemann said. “It was slow at first, with essentially just a skeleton staff.”

Soon, more shoppers came — and they bought more than ever.

“Our sales went up,” Niemann explained.

Despite the months of being closed, the Charity Guild of Catholic Women still raised $300,000.

That’s a blessing for nonprofits, explained Ruthanne Mefford, CEO of Child Advocates of Fort Bend.

The organization received a grant from the Charity Guild of Catholic Women two years ago and is now applying for further support toward services for abused children.

“We could not continue without their funds,” Mefford said. “It’s so important to us.”

The group’s Children’s Advocacy Center served 3,347 children in 2020. And during COVID-19, Mefford explained, abuse increased, but since children were not in school, it often went unreported.

“We’re serving 22 percent more children than in the previous year,” Mefford said. “The Charity Guild has been critical. Without this funding, we wouldn’t have been able to serve the amount of children that we do.”

The next 100 years

The Charity Guild of Catholic Women is planning a yearlong centennial celebration, kicking off with a Mass at Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in October and concluding with a Mass at the Church of the Annunciation next October.

Each month in between, the shop will display a new celebratory theme. There will also be historical photos to share, a book, a gala and a capital campaign for building repairs.

The guild and San José Clinic also plan to celebrate turning 100 together with a luncheon at the Houston Zoo. The guild has continued its century-long commitment of giving to the clinic, now donating $50,000 a year.

The Charity Guild Shop continues to grow in sales, consignors and members, Niemann said. And, she explained, that means that children will continue to gain access to food, housing, health care, clothing, education and support through the funds raised.

“This is just our first 100 years,” Niemann said. “There’s no telling how much we can give away in the next 100.”

 “The grant that we receive this year will enable us to create a College Counseling Center, opening the doors for young women and men, many of whom are first-generation college applicants.”

Among this year’s Catholic School beneficiaries was St. Theresa Catholic School. They will use their grant to update the school emergency communication system. Melissa Ilski, Principal, included in her remarks “This new system will allow emergency calls and campus alerts to be made from every phone on site, reinforcing that safety is critical to learning.”  Saint Pius X will use the grant to help develop a college center for their students. Carmen Garrett Armistead, Head of School, stated  “The grant that we receive this year will enable us to create a College Counseling Center, opening the doors for young women and men, many of whom are first-generation college applicants.”

Special Announcement

  • For cosigners:
  • No men or ladies shorts
  • No woolen clothing
  • No art in July or August
  • Accepting fall transitional clothing