A beacon of hope: second-hand store celebrates five years
It is mid-afternoon at the Espaço Vida Mais second-hand store in Massamá, Lisbon, Portugal. Although it is the third week of September, the heat from the sun is still permeating the atmosphere, leading to temperatures in the mid-90s.
Inside the store is the usual atmosphere: one of community, joy, and happiness. The store has been open since 2 p.m. and is an hour away from closing at 6.
Sitting on the table is store volunteer Nadine Brakowski, enjoying a piece of banana bread baked by Marjorie. She is engaged in conversation with a long-time client who lives in the area.
Nadine started volunteering at the store in 2015 and found out about the opportunity through church connections.
She says the experience of getting to know new people is one of her favorite parts of volunteering at the store.
“It is so interesting to meet people from different cultures and different backgrounds,” she said.
The store is located in a public housing neighborhood and is regularly visited by Portuguese and African immigrants who reside in the area. Donations that are given mostly come from partnering churches in Germany and the United States.
Nadine says that interacting with people is what makes volunteering at the store so great.
“It’s nice to see people being happy about being able to get nice things,” she said. “Through the store, we are able to afford people what they need but we are also able to connect with them.”
A sense of community
Connection, relationship, and warmth are three words that perfectly describe the environment at the store.
Midway through the hour, a family enters the store: grandmother with her son and her granddaughter. Immediately the atmosphere changes as there is a celebration and a sense of joy at seeing them.
The guests interact with Maria Efekele, the store manager, and it is obvious they have known each other intimately for quite some time. The family did not come to buy anything but simply to stop by and say hello to everyone there.
Something about Maria
Many would say that Maria is the heartbeat of the store. As the manager, not only is she in charge of the business aspect and customer service, but she is also very adept at connecting with those that enter in and building meaningful relationships with them.
Maria studied hospitality management studies at university. When she was first approached with the opportunity to work at the store, she jumped at the chance.
“I had just finished school and had been doing some internships,” she said. “But I was also very involved in my church and found it hard to reconcile working on the weekends with my church life. This opportunity came at the right time and was a God-send.”
Maria says that not only did working at the store afford her a great professional opportunity, it also helped her grow personally and spiritually.
“There are so many stories of clients that I have heard over time that have helped me grow as an individual,” she said. “The store has helped me grow in the area of accounting as well, and made me realize the gifts and talents that I have. I used to have really low self-esteem but through this experience, God has shown me my worth.”
Maria says that just as the store blesses others, it blesses her as well.
“I have learned a lot about God’s love by working here and I hope that is the main message that we are able to send to our clients, that God loves them,” she said.
Maria is currently 6 months pregnant and is expecting a child in December. She says she is grateful for the flexible schedule at the store which allows her to more closely care for her two children.
Making an impact
Sitting at the table enjoying some banana bread with Nadine is long-time client Nené Raul Sanca Nfina. She is an immigrant from Guinea-Bissau and often stops by the store to hang out with the girls.
This is easy for her as she lives right next door.
Nené says that she doesn’t exactly recall the first time she entered the store, but she does remember how she felt.
“I was so well received,” she said. “The women took very good care of me.”
From that moment on, she decided to come back regularly.
“Sometimes I come here when I need something, and many times I buy things,” she said. “When I don’t have that much money, the women help me by lowering the prices sometimes. But many times I also come here to see the women and spend time with them.”
Nené is especially fond of Maria.
“She is such a good person,” Nené said. “She really respects the clients.”
Among all the thrift stores in Portugal, Espaço Vida Mais stands out as a beacon of hope in a community that needs it.
Nadine expressed that sentiment as she discussed what she loved the most about this project.
“This store is really about connecting with people,” she said. “There are a lot of thrift stores whose main goal is to make money. Although we are striving for a healthy business model and striving to become self-sufficient, our ultimate goal is to connect with people. We’re not here to make money, we are here to serve.”
The store recently celebrated five years since opening for the first time. Many Friends of Portugal collaborators were present at a small gathering filled with smiles, celebration and of course, food!
The store continues to bless those that come into contact with it, providing hope for those who need it. It is also a shelter for those that need a spiritual and relational home.
Many have found a home through this project over the last five years. Our hope is that the project continues to reach many more.