By: Follow South Jersey Staff
PITMAN, N.J. — Randy Van Osten, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pitman, had noticed that there was a lot of unused space in the church building on Broadway in Pitman.
“We have a large building that is primarily used on Sunday,” Van Osten said. “We wanted to create a community space where people can go, so we decided to start with a thrift shop.
The church ran a thrift store from 1967-77 that was “designed to recycle clothing donated by area residents for those who need help” called the Fig Leaf that utilized a house in the historic Pitman Grove. So Van Olsen’s first goal was to recreate the thrift store.
Fig Leaf Thrift will hold its grand opening complete with a ribbon cutting ceremony, live music by local artist Richie Green, free merch giveaway, and free drinks/snacks on Saturday, March 20 at 10:00 a.m.
“We see the needs of families who have experienced job loss due to COVID pandemic to be fulfilled and thought that a thrift store would be a good job,” Van Osten said.
The Fig Leaf will sell clothes, housewares, books, etc. at a low cost. However, he and his team had a greater vision than just a thrift store.
Out of that vision came The Lighthouse Community Center, whose mission, much like a lighthouse is to “serve as a navigational aid helping people navigate life through education, mentoring, job skills training, and life skills training; to help keep people from danger by providing for their physical, emotional, and relational needs and to be a beacon of hope and a harbor of refuge and safety for all those seeking,” according to a press release.
“We want to turn the church building into a space that can be used by the community,” he said. “We see space in the building that isn’t being used. It is vacant 99% of the time, so why not use it for the community.”
For the community space, Van Osten plans to also put in a coffee shop and cafe. Just this past weekend, Van Olsten saw the closing of The Treehouse Coffee Shop, his Audubon coffee shop that opened in May of 2003 with a “vision to provide a sanctuary from the negative, stress filled society we live in.,” according to the Treehouse Coffee Shop Facebook post. The small business, like many others, had fallen victim to the COVID-19 economy.
All the money raised from sales at Fig Leaf Thrift will first go to incorporating The Lighthouse Community Development Corporation. “Once that is funded, the money will go to fund an after school program, an expansion of our food ministry (provide weekly hot meals at first), job and life skills training, and a community cafe whose mission will be to provide job/life skills to youth who age out of foster care,” according to a statement from the church. The site will also be available for community groups to meet.
“We want to focus on aged-out foster children,” Van Osten said. “We want to help get them training, maybe even create jobs for them.”
According to FinallyFamilyHomes.org, “more than 23,000 children will age out of the US foster care system every year. After reaching the age of 18, 20% of the children who were in foster care will become instantly homeless.” In New Jersey, under certain conditions, children can stay in foster care until the age of 21.
The Lighthouse Community Center will be home to an afterschool program starting in the fall 2021 in partnership with Renaissance Village, according to the church. Kids will have an opportunity to learn, grow, mentor, and have fun. Since the number of people with food insecurity continues to grow, the center will start providing hot meals to go once a week. Job and life skills training are going to be another important part of the Lighthouse.
The church currently hosts an after school program for children at the site.
“With remote instruction, kids need a place to go,” church member and educator Dare Euler said. “The church has WiFi, and they can get support for what they need so they don’t fall too far behind.”
With the increasing needs of the community brought on by the pandemic, Van Osten feels that the church can be a beacon of support.
“Right now, the church is seen as a peripheral part of the community instead of a central part,” Van Osten said. “It’s not the government’s job to take care of people but the church’s role.”
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