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Meet the op shop volunteers who have given $200,000 to Aussie international aid agency

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Community spirit: Agnes Hough at the Gifts by the Sea store at Scarborough.

AGNES Hough was a nurse all her working life. 

When the 81-year-old retired 24 years ago she was snapped up to run a unique charity shop, and she’s been working there ever since.

“I just do what I have to do,” Agnes said.

She heads up a team of volunteers who have made Gifts by the Sea – the heart and soul of the beachfront shopping strip at Scarborough, on Brisbane’s northern peninsula.

“It’s lovely what the girls are doing,” Tabatha Stoton, who runs a fashion boutique next door, said.

“Their shop just brings me good vibes. There’s a community spirit.”

Gifts by the Sea was started to support Caritas Australia’s Project Compassion appeal and celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

It is a local institution and a truly unique venture set up by Eunice Burstow and five other local women.

They decided to start selling handmade crafts with the craftspeople getting 10 per cent of the selling price. 

The rest of the money went to supporting Project Compassion, which was then run by Australian Catholic Relief.

At the time ACR was expanding across Australia, not just responding to emergency situations, but starting to focus on human development and building community self-reliance to overcome poverty.

 Even today, proceeds from the shop go into a bank account in the name of the ACR, even though the organisation is now known as Caritas Australia.

“We just pay the bills each month – a little rent and electricity – and the rest goes into the account,” Agnes, who manages the volunteers and oversees the books, said.

In 50 years, Gifts by the Sea has raised more than $200,000. 

Brisbane-based Caritas regional engagement co-ordinator Joseph Foley only recently found out about the shop and was amazed by the generosity of the women. 

“The efforts of all the volunteers at Gifts by the Sea has transformed thousands of lives every year since 1965 and has demonstrated faith, compassion and generosity towards the most vulnerable members of our global family,” he said.

Eunice Burstow handed over the running of Gifts by the Sea to Agnes in 1992.

Agnes, having run her own nursing business in Sydney, had the acumen and skill to make the shop a success.

She turned the Gifts by the Sea from a crafts-for-commission shop to a charity thrift shop.

“It’s a focus for the community,” Agnes, who is a long-time parishioner of the Mary Queen of Peace Church at Woody Point, said.

“At Christmas we have a nativity, all lit up, which attracts people during the big carnival here.”

The shop means a lot to the peninsula locals all year round. For a start, there are bargains to be had, sorting through the piles of clothes, the books and games, jewellery and kitchenware.

“We love it. It’s well known for a bargain,” Lorraine Harrison, who runs a shoe shop several doors away, said.

“You can pick up amazing things. I’ve seen Royal Doulton come in. People don’t always know what they are throwing out.”

“That’s true,” said Agnes. 

“People bring in good items, including complete dinner sets.

“We just sold a golf buggy this morning.

“We always thank people and send them cards when they help us.”

Over its 50 years, Gifts By the Sea has also been a valuable training ground for volunteers. 

More than 100 volunteers have worked there, often a chance for local people to get customer service experience.

Agnes’ daughter Jacqueline Henry is one of those who drops in regularly, either to help out or take the volunteers for a coffee.

“For Mum there wasn’t any grand plan,” Jacqueline said. “It’s just a job that needs to be done.

“There are a lot of locals under stress and struggling, and through community generosity the shop can supply them.

“What’s remarkable about the people who work here, like Mum, is that they don’t think what they do is remarkable. They just think they are like everyone else.”

Mother and daughter

Dedicated: Agnes Hough and her daughter Jacqueline Henry at the Gifts by the Sea store at Scarborough.

There is one dark cloud hanging over Gifts by the Sea.

It is uncertain how long the shop will remain as the shop owners have their entire building up for sale.

“We know it is on the market, but there is nothing we can do,” Lorraine said.

“We love the shop here and we don’t want it to go.” Gifts by the Sea is open from 9am-12 noon Monday to Saturday.

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