The family’s craft box held things like white Styrofoam meat trays, broken buttons of many colors, the cardboard ring from a roll of masking tape, scraps of fabric from satin to corduroy, the Sunday comics, and bits of brown twine from packages delivered to this working-class home on Long Island’s south side. Renee Gregory’s mother taught her children to use these kind of items in ways other than their intended purposes.
“With seven kids and one working parent, it was a necessity,” Gregory recalls. At craft time, her brothers and sisters would race to dig into the box – even though it never contained anything shiny or new.
“It influenced my approach to life,” she said. “I don’t look at things the way they are, but I look and see what they could be.”
Last April, Gregory became the first director of Fancy Finds, a new aspect of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina (BCH) that supports the organization’s ministries to children, families, developmentally disabled adults and aging adults through the North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry (NCBAM). Fancy Finds is a new resale store that will offer older or previously discarded furniture and home décor items that Gregory will creatively restore and transform into renewed vintage-style pieces.
“The process is known as repurposing,” Gregory explains. “It is the essence of what BCH does every day – breathing new life and purpose into people in desperate need.”
Proceeds generated by the store go back into the BCH ministry. In addition, Fancy Finds opens up opportunities for others to support BCH and volunteer. The store is dependent on people donating older, gently-worn furniture and accessories.
“BCH has friends who may not be able to financially support the ministry, but they may have furniture in their garage or attic that they can donate,” Gregory says. “Volunteering is another way they can plug in.”
Fancy Finds will need volunteers to help operate the resale store. Gregory is also willing to teach volunteers how to repurpose both donated items as well as pieces customers wish to have restored for themselves. She has already passed on her repurposing talents to young moms and teenagers in BCH’s care as a part of Fancy Finds’ outreach.
In addition to Gregory’s early-developed “do it yourself” skills, preparation for her new position began in 2004 when she moved to North Carolina from Long Island. She quickly developed community by volunteering at one of her favorite places to shop – the Habitat Restore in Statesville.
Volunteering with Habitat allowed her to help others as well as regularly check out new donations. (Things like dusty old dressers with broken drawers that Gregory envisioned as chic and trendy kitchen islands.) The volunteer position eventually became a career where she served eight years as assistant manager and learned the ins and outs of running a non-profit resale store.
“There is something about old furniture that grabs me – the craftsmanship that you don’t see today – and then being able to give those pieces new life.” Gregory also sees a connection between repurposing items and God’s refashioning and restoration of broken things in her own life.
“I have learned that God does make all things new – actually even better than new. So, when I look at a piece of furniture – no matter how broken and worn, no matter what it’s been through, I have faith that it can be made new.”
Gregory and BCH hope to open the Fancy Finds store in early 2016. In the meantime, the additional services Fancy Finds offers that are not dependent on a brick and mortar location are already underway. Gregory offers repurposing classes for church functions, family events and even employers seeking a team-building activity for staff. She has also established Fancy Finds’ Estate Sale Service for people who need to downsize their home or liquidate a loved one’s estate. All fees for services go back into BCH to support those the ministry serves daily.
“What appeals to me most about Fancy Finds is knowing I will be helping others – not only by working in the store, but through the lives and futures that will be changed by the ministries of Baptist Children’s Homes. My lifelong love of repurposing now has a higher purpose and that’s very fulfilling for me – and also a lot of fun!” Not surprising coming from a woman whose Barbie house was made from kindling and its backyard pool from a trash bag and a few old bricks.
COMMUNITY EVENT: Fancy Finds’ first community event takes place on Saturday, December 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at BCH’s Wall Home located at 8487 North NC Highway 109 in Winston-Salem. Gregory will have some of Fancy Find’s first repurposed items available. Snacks will be available and BCH’s children will be on hand.
For more information about Fancy Finds, visit www.fancyfinds.org