Looking Back with 2020 Vision – Part 2
During the last 2 weeks of the year, we are looking back on how each of the MVO programs pursued its mission throughout 2020 – despite the Covid-19 Pandemic and a tremendously active and destructive hurricane season. We were blessed by God, even during this challenging year. Last week, we looked at how Tender Hearts Caring Hands, Most Excellent Way, and the Charis House met the challenges of 2020. This week, we’ll look back on how the Bargain Center and the Early Learning Center followed God by faith, through uncertain and unprecedented times.
Ministry Village Bargain Center
At the beginning of 2020, the Ministry Village Bargain Center moved from its original Davis Highway location to a new location on 9 Mile Road. The 9 Mile Road location not only provided access to the booming population growth in that area – both for ease of donation drop-offs and accessibility of shoppers – but it also provided a better store layout for the merchandise as well as the addition of the Bargain Center’s recently launched vendor space – The Market. The Market at Ministry Village opened in December 2019, providing vendor booth space which allowed the Bargain Center to expand into a unique, boutique-style shopping experience. Vendors at The Market offer a variety of local, handmade, unique and custom items ranging from local honey and jewelry to handmade wreaths and crosses.
With its grand reopening on February 3rd, the Bargain Center kicked off a new year in a new space. The addition of vendor booths has been a resounding success, adding to the BC’s bottom line (which funds the programs of Ministry Village) and providing customers with an enhanced, unique shopping experience. Like most businesses, the Bargain Center closed because of the new Covid-19 pandemic. After staying closed for 6 weeks – from April 1 to May 10 – the BC reopened with social distancing measures in place. Business gradually began to return to normal — and then Hurricane Sally came to town on September 16. With widespread flooding and damage to streets, homes, electrical and telephone lines, the Bargain Center was forced to close again. After 5 days, employees were able to reopen the store, but dealt with challenges including no telephone or internet service, which meant no access to the credit card system. The BC operated as a cash only store for 2 weeks until services were fully restored.
The challenges of 2020 brought unexpected blessings to the Bargain Center. With so many people unexpectedly sheltering at home during the pandemic, organizing and decluttering became a favorite pastime. This led to a massive wave of donations for the Bargain Center. Ministry Village held several donation drives at Olive Baptist Church in addition to accepting donations at the store. And, while the Bargain Center was closed to shoppers, the employees were able to continue working, helping other programs of Ministry Village that were in high-demand including the food pantry of Tender Hearts Caring Hands and repair projects at the Early Learning Center.
2020 also provided the Bargain Center with new opportunities to reach out to those most in need throughout our community. They distributed more than 200 food boxes and $1,300 in product donations to local homeless and needy families through partnerships with REAP, 90Works, Opening Doors, Tender Hearts Caring Hands, the Charis House, and a special new friend Benita Padilla, whose passion for the homeless inspired everyone around. The Bargain Center also began a new text message campaign to reach its most dedicated customers and began utilizing the ReSupply Me Service to schedule donation pickups.
Ministry Village Early Learning Center
The Ministry Village ELC first opened its doors to children in November 2018. To celebrate its first full year of educating our youngest neighbors, ELC Director Kristi Zagar partnered with Olive Baptist Church Preschool Director Sharon Barnes to hold a Miss PattyCake Pajama Party celebration in early 2020. Parents and children were entertained by Miss PattyCake (Jean Thomason), who uses songs that both teach and praise God. While we began the year celebrating, we would spend much of the year learning to adapt to a growing list of challenges.
The Covid-19 Pandemic began to affect enrollment and attendance at the ELC in March. Attendance plummeted from 143 students daily to 53, and by April, it was down to 44. The ELC instituted new health guidelines and drop-off procedures based on the CDC and Early Learning Coalition’s guidance. Staff members with health concerns opted to stay home, and many ELC families found themselves out of work and not needing – or able to afford – daily childcare. The ELC team worked closely with families to hold children’s spots for future attendance without charging tuition. As the weeks wore on, the ELC became one of the only area childcare centers continuing to operate. With other facilities closed, first responders and medical professionals needed a place to care for their children, and the Lord guided many of them to the ELC. By May, daily attendance had increased to 74 children, and the number continued to grow throughout the year.
The ELC teachers missed all of their students who were unable to continue daily classes, and they continued to minister to children and families by sending them information and tips on how to continue learning at home. All year long, the ELC teachers worked hard to provide their students with a sense of normalcy and stability. They found creative and innovative ways to safely hold holiday parties – Valentines exchange, a recycle art project and show, an Easter egg hunt – and when a traditional VPK graduation looked like it could not happen, they planned a water day VPK graduation party and pizza picnic, with a trunk-or-treat-style VPK graduation so no little graduate felt left-out. Community partners like the Escambia County Sheriff’s K9 demo team and the Mounted Posse Horse Unit also visited the ELC, giving the kids a lot of opportunities for fun memories and much-needed laughter.
The ELC building suffered significant water damage from Hurricane Sally in September, and the school was forced to close. However, thanks to support from the Florida Department of Children and Families and the Escambia County Early Learning Coalition, the ELC was able to obtain an emergency license and reopen in space at Olive Baptist Church’s preschool on October 5. Olive’s Preschool Director Sharon Barnes and her team of preschool leaders were a tremendous support to the ELC throughout this unprecedented time, welcoming our teachers, families and children with open arms, and working seamlessly with us as we made every effort to provide continued care for our ELC families. After construction repairs were completed and inspections were passed, the ELC moved back into its renovated building on October 19.
As they had throughout the year, the ELC teachers and staff focused on providing its students and families with normalcy and stability. By adjusting events throughout the fall, the ELC was able to hold a Fall Festival costume party, Thanksgiving celebrations, food drives, Christmas Pajama Party, and a Happy Birthday Jesus Party just before Christmas break.
So much about 2020 has been difficult for our community. We have faced challenges most of us could have never predicted. However, the challenges we’ve faced have led us to so many blessings we would have otherwise never seen.
As ELC Director Kristi Zagar said, “I feel like our biggest accomplishment this year is just getting through it together. It has brought our staff and our ELC families closer. 2020 has been a year of walking in faithfulness. We have been hit a lot this year. Our staff has handled themselves so well, being put into so many difficult situations. The care of our children has always stayed their top priority. God’s love has emanated from each of them and has pulled us through these days. God has blessed us with amazing teachers who love God and each of our students.”
“I think this year will make us better at walking in blind faith. God has us right where He wants us, and He will not leave us wandering in the desert. There is a promised land coming.”
🛍 The Ministry Village Bargain Center is located 92 E. Nine Mile Road, just east of Palafox, near the railroad tracks. Hours are Monday – Saturday, 9AM to 5PM. For more information about the Ministry Village Bargain Center, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MinistryVillageBargainCenter or on Instagram @MinistryVillageBargains. Donations are accepted Monday through Saturday, 9 AM to 4 PM. Look for the double garage doors on the west side of the building and ring the bell. If you have large furniture, call the Bargain Center (850-916-9222) during regular store hours to schedule the Bargain Center’s truck for pickup, or visit http://www.resupplyme.org to schedule a pickup.
🎓 Situated on the campus of Olive Baptist Church, the Ministry Village Early Learning Center (ELC) is conveniently located near the corner of Davis Highway and Olive Road. Each of the 11 classrooms within the nearly 9,500 square-foot building was designed to accommodate the specific needs of a particular age and stage of development. The Ministry Village Early Learning Center is licensed under the Department of Children and Families (DCF License #C01ES0341) and the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI #648587) and is an approved provider for Florida’s free 4-year-old Voluntary Prekindergarten Program (VPK). Follow the ELC on Facebook or visit their website at MinistryVillageELC.org for more information.