The minute you meet Carolyn Foster, her heart for service becomes abundantly clear.
“I think God did create us to serve,” says Foster, known affectionately as Cas. She manages the Tuggerah Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) Op Shop, a charity or thrift store, on the Central Coast of New South Wales, Australia. “God created us to be in His image, and He is the greatest Server of all.”
With this passion in her heart, it is no surprise that when an opportunity arose to manage an op shop in the Central Coast region, Foster decided to dive into the unknown and volunteer for the position.
“I [stuck] my hand up and thought, Well, I’ve never done it before, but I’ll give it a go, and God, You need to help me with this,” she says.
“Once you start volunteering, it becomes very addictive.”
In Australia and New Zealand, an op shop is a store, typically operated by a charity, to which new or used goods are donated for sale at reduced prices. Foster opened the store in November 2018 with the support of her family, in particular her parents, John and Ellen Kooyman, who volunteer with her two days a week. For Foster, it’s a ministry that has been founded on prayer.
“We prayed about every decision. We prayed about where to go; we prayed about which church [to collaborate with].”
In a partnership with Hillview Seventh-day Adventist Church in New South Wales, the North New South Wales Conference, and ADRA, the Tuggerah ADRA Op Shop is situated in an area of declining economic prosperity. In 2019, the Central Coast was listed as having one of the worst rates of youth unemployment in Australia, and the Tuggerah-Wyong regions have been categorized for many years as low socioeconomic areas.
As ADRA Australia national retail manager Gordon Coutts highlights, this means op shops are the only option for some.
“You have a large number of people who come to our op shops, [who] don’t necessarily want to be there,” says Coutts. “They’re there because they are forced to be there.”
Foster and her team strive to provide useful, well-priced options for clothing, homewares, and toys, among many other items. An important element of the Tuggerah ADRA Op Shop has become its array of affordable furniture. The pieces have often been generously donated through a furniture transport business operated by Foster’s husband, Graham.
“The standout feature of this particular op shop is the quality of furniture that they have access to,” says Coutts. “A lot of the products available to Tuggerah are brand new, or maybe 12 months old.”
However, while the shop items are an important part of the mission, it’s evident that customer interactions are where Foster’s passion lies. She told me of a situation just that morning in which a customer with a speech or hearing impairment came in looking for a train fare to visit her ailing mother.
“All she wanted was AUD$2.50 [about US$1.70],” Foster says. “She’d been to a few other op shops and places, and no one would help her. [My] dad gave her $2.50, and she was beyond excitement, just so thankful someone would help her and listen to her.”
For Tuggerah Op Shop Local Management Committee chairperson and Adventist Media CFO Jean Tiran, this op shop draws right into the heart of Christlikeness.
“What did Jesus do? He was very active in His community. Sometimes people want to come to a place where someone will just listen to them,” Tiran says.
“The individuals working at the Tuggerah Op Shop are fulfilling the needs of people.”
The shop is in desperate need of volunteers, Foster says, especially those who would love to step out of their comfort zone and form relationships with the community.
“In the last days . . . we are called to witness to others through acts of love, and I think there is no greater way than when you’re in a place like this, and you’re meeting people, you’re connecting with them, you’re talking to them,” she says passionately.
“You don’t necessarily sit down and give them a Sabbath School study lesson … but they’re meeting you, and they’re actually feeling loved [and] heard by you.”
Her father, John, agrees. He says, “God looks after the shop, and we look after [the relationships].”