By Rosemarie Dowell
EUSTIS – A triple rent increase last March forced a local ministry to shut down, but some longtime volunteers knew in their hearts it would be resurrected.
They were right, it just took some time.
Life Changing Ministries, which had a successful 20-year run in Eustis, including 16 years on West Ardice Avenue, opened in November with a new name, Lake County Missions Thrift Store – and a new location at 415 N. Grove St.
But its purpose of helping those in need never faltered.
“We felt like God was telling us to continue, but we weren’t sure where to go or what to do,” said Rayma Peters, who’s been with the thrift store since it opened in Feb. 1999 as an outreach mission of Mount Dora Seventh Day Adventist Church.
“We felt in our hearts that it wasn’t over; that He still wanted us to help the needy,” she said.
Peters said she and others with Life Changing Ministries were shocked early last year when its rent was tripled to $25,000 a month following the building’s purchase by a St. Petersburg-based business.
When negotiations for a more affordable rent failed, the ministry had no other choice but to shut down.
With the ministry’s vision still present in their hearts though, Peters and others were elated when they found a workable and affordable location in the Eustis Grove Plaza in August.
“We were fortunate to find our new space,” she said. “Our new landlord has been very helpful and gave us free rent for the first three months.”
Peters, her husband, Roy Peters, and brother Rod Polk, both of whom also previously helped run the non-profit, oversee the day-to-day operation of the store as assistant managers. Keith Rilea, who served as director of Life Changing Ministries since its inception, is assisting the trio behind the scenes.
The faith-based organization is also no longer affiliated with the Adventist Church, which necessitated the name change.
“We kept the initials L, C, and M,” said Peters. “But we had to change the name because we’re no longer with the church.”
As always, the store will continue to use proceeds from the sale of donated furniture, clothing and other merchandise to fund its food bank as well as provide clothing and household goods to struggling families.
In 2018, the ministry assisted nearly 4,000 clients each month, giving them more than 20,000 household goods, including bedding and furniture, 13,000-plus clothing items, and $323,000-plus worth of food from its food bank.
“We’ve given back about $7 million to the community over the past twenty years,” said Peters.
At 9,000-square-feet, the new space is much smaller than the 25,000-square-foot building it once occupied, so Peters said efficient stocking and rotating merchandise will be key to keeping operations running smoothly.
“We don’t have any storage area so we’ll have to put stuff out on the shelves as soon as we get it in,” she said. The ministry hopes to purchase a 40-foot storage trailer in the near future.
Peters said once word got out about the ministry’s reopening, the community responded resoundingly.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the support from the community,” she said. “The first day we accepted donations we had 22 carloads of goods, she said. “The second day, we had 19.”
“Everyone has helped us get the store ready,” said Peters. “Someone bought paint, someone else had the floors done.”
Roughly 12 volunteers help stock shelves, sort through and price donations, and run registers, said Peters.
Families that need assistance can seek help by applying in person at the store. Besides food, clients can receive clothing, furniture and other items they need to get started after being displaced by a fire, job loss, severe illness or homelessness.
“The clothing and furniture and other items are one time only,” said Peters. “We also keep track of families that receive food because we have government guidelines we have to follow.”
Store hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday and Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
The ministry’s food pantry hours are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays. Appointments are not required.
Peters said she and her co-assistant managers are delighted to be serving the community again.
“God is our manager; we’re just his gofers,” she said.