What do you do with a full-sized, former public transport bus, custom fitted as a mobile retail store? Yass Community Baptist Church were faced with this situation when they acquired a bus previously operated for 12 years by the Alpine Uniting Church in Jindabyne.
The church was well aware of the needs of the local community and some of the social pressures people faced including a lack of further education and employment opportunities, social issues, such as drug abuse or single parent families who were dependent on welfare. While such circumstances are common across rural Australia, the Yass region is in the Capital Country surrounding Canberra, which meant living costs, especially home rental, are unusually high. One town, Binalong, is also very isolated and residents need to travel 36km to the nearest town where any clothing, manchester, books, toys or household goods are sold, new or used.
In addition to the practical needs, people in small rural communities are easily isolated from opportunities to simply engage with others, especially the elderly, who are often lonely, or those in low socio-economic situations, who are often shunned in other retail stores.
With the bus available, and with only two other op shops in the local government area, both of which are in Yass, plus the closure of Vinnies in the town of Boorowa, the opportunity to develop the Mobile Op Shop bus project was too good to miss. With assistance from the 2013 BaptistCare Connect Grant program, the church was able to complete the fit out to enable them to provide affordable and quality second-hand products sold from the bus in two shire areas. Covering an area of 6578km2, the equivalent to over half of Sydney, the potential for community impact is huge. The bus also provides a safe space for people to come for a chat and enjoy time with volunteers and locals breaking down some of the social isolation country living can bring.
Currently, the Op Bus travels to Binalong and Boorowa, small towns within 100km radius of Yass, every alternate Wednesday and also operates near a local Yass shopping centre on Friday mornings. I recently had the privilege of spending the day with the team in Boorowa and it was such an encouragement to chat to the Deputy Mayor of Boorowa Council who indicated the Council was committed to the success of the project because of the positive impact it is having in the community. In future, the bus is also hoping to expand to other small towns such as Gunning.
Karyn, a member of Yass Baptist who drives the bus, made the following comment in her report to BaptistCare:
As Christians, we want this project to reflect God’s love as we treat every customer with dignity and respect, and develop long-term, listening relationships. Our experience shows that many people become regular op shop customers with very little intention of buying… they are seeking conversation and companionship. In keeping with the church values and commitment to the local area, all profits are used to provide practical assistance in the community.
The Mobile Op Shop bus is an example of what a smaller church can do as they reach out to their community. Through the Connect Grant program, BaptistCare continues to encourage churches as they catch the vision for ministry opportunities in their area and seek to be the presence of Christ amongst the community.
If you would like to know more about some of the projects supported by BaptistCare through the Connect Grant program, please contact Rev Howard Bennett, 02 9023 2562 or email firstname.lastname@example.org