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Pine church expands outreach with store opening

| Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, 7:06 p.m.
Louis Raggiunti | Tribune Review
Mary Sheehan and Penny Lyon at Olive Branch, a store founded by members of Salem United Methodist Church in Pine.
Louis Raggiunti | Tribune Review
Joyce Wanniger at Olive Branch, a store in Pine that stocks items made by impoverished artisans from around the world.

Several members of Salem United Methodist Church in Pine are expanding their church's mission outreach by venturing into the retail business.

They opened Olive Branch in December on Perry Highway in Pine. The nonprofit store stocks 1,300 unique gifts, hand-crafted jewelry items and household goods made by impoverished artisans from all over the world.

Its purpose is to help provide economic opportunities in developing countries. Profits from sales will be donated to local and international causes, and no money will go to the church.

In addition to the shop, Olive Branch is providing opportunities and space for community members to participate in hands-on missions. The first project will be sewing fabric purses for girls in Zambia who cannot attend school during menstruation because they have nothing in which to carry personal hygiene products.

The store also will accept material donations for one specific cause that will be announced each month. It will accept food donations for North Hills Community Outreach all year.

“Our first collection will be for plastic prescription or over-the-counter medicine bottles,” said Vivian Sylvester, of Bradford Woods, who is helping to coordinate mission projects for Olive Branch.

“We'll send them to Malawi, where patients have to walk miles to see a doctor. When the doctor dispenses medicine, he wraps the pills in paper, and the pills drop out when the patients walk home,”

The Rev. Beth Nelson, pastor at Salem United Methodist, said she doesn't know of any other church that has started a store like Olive Branch. The church has nearly 200 members.

“It's awesome because we've moved the church out into the community. We're making a statement for what we believe in and our niche is our passion for mission,” she said.

Olive Branch actually began 40 years ago when members of Salem's missions committee proposed a small store in which fair trade items from around the world could be sold. The church council was skeptical, but agreed to provide $300 in seed money.

The money was used to purchase free-trade baskets, carved wood nativities and other items. Missions committee members rented a room at the Richey Motel on Perry Highway in McCandless and displayed 200 items for a few hours each week. They posted an Olive Branch sign outside the motel room to advertise.

“Every month, we asked ourselves if we were going to be able to sell enough to pay the rent for the motel room, which was $100,” said Mary Sheehan, of Marshall.

Two years later, Olive Branch moved to a small cottage on the grounds of the East and West International Restaurant in Cranberry, which a church member owned. When the restaurant closed, Olive Branch relocated to a corner of the church basement, and store hours were restricted to November and December.

Moving the store into the Wexford retail corridor was a leap of faith.

“Being a church is totally different now than it was in the past,” Sheehan said. “We have to spread beyond our own four walls and get out into the community and provide opportunities for people to be involved.”

To offset the $750 monthly lease, Sheehan sought a grant from the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church in Cranberry, and appealed to Salem church members.

Laurie Rees is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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