This report has been updated from an earlier location to clarify the location of the Methodist Care Closet.
Nissa LaPointe has finally gotten the walkways clear at the New Beginnings Thrift Store in Wewahitchka. It took her weeks with help from volunteers to sort through all the items they had in the shop, but now, she says, the building is starting to feel more organized.
There are books and furniture in the front, then racks of newer clothing, artwork and kitchen utensils. The back room is filled with donated clothing, some of which LaPointe still has to sort through, but she said she finally feels like she can see things taking shape.
It’s been a goal of hers to get the store off of State Road 22 cleaned up since she and her boyfriend, Tim Miller, took it over after Miller’s father unexpectedly died in October.
“I started working almost as soon as I hit the door,” LaPointe said. “I’m wide open trying to get everything done that I need to. There’s just so much to do, but this store was important to him.”
But more than honoring Miller’s father, LaPointe says she wants to honor the vision that he had for the shop and its role in the community.
“Pastor Miller had a goal last year of helping 1,000 people with this shop,” she said, explaining that he was unable to reach that goal before he died. “We’re going to try and get as many as we can – like three times as much this year, if it’s possible.”
Miller’s father was the pastor of the New Beginnings Life and Praise Pentecostal Church, which supports the thrift store as part of its charitable outreach. LaPointe said that after raising enough money to fix the church’s roof and pay the bills, she wants to use the shop to do more community outreach, including clearing a wall where local artists will be able to display and sell their work.
“Hopefully soon, we can get that church done and work more in here,” she said. “We will be having fundraisers. We’re going to do a fish fry. We’re going to do raffles. Yeah, we’re going to be doing a bunch of stuff.”
LaPointe said that one of the largest financial obstacles has been continued robberies of the store’s donations and merchandise, which she said have persisted for years.
“I mean, ultimately, we’re not doing too good. We’re having to put in our own money to be able to keep the doors open,” she said. “And if we close the doors, unfortunately, people are going to have to go elsewhere. And, you know, there’s not going to be as much assistance available to people that need it.”
New Beginnings is one of several Gulf County thrift stores that have experienced an increasing number of robberies over the past several months. In November, Methodist Care Closet in Port St. Joe had to stop receiving donations outside of their regular business hours to prevent nighttime robberies.
Since, employees at the Care Closet have said robberies have dramatically decreased, which LaPointe hopes will soon happen at New Beginnings. LaPointe and Miller have installed an improved security system at the shop, but she said it has not prevented all of the thefts.
“We didn’t catch all the stuff that happened prior to setting the camera stuff up, obviously,” LaPointe said. “We’ve since been pulling the footage regularly. We’ve trespassed several people that were running scams on us. But ultimately, there’s always going to be a thief.”
She said that she hopes continued efforts to tighten the shop’s security will eventually keep thefts down. And LaPointe has already been seeing more donations come in, which she sees as an encouraging sign of positive change.
“We’re here to help people. And in order to do that, we need to kind of lock some things down as far as it goes with people just thinking that they can come in and take,” she said.