The good will of faith-based groups on Bedford Avenue radiates into the side streets like rays of sunshine. Sometimes, we are surprised by where we see their lights. Previously, we had stopped at Bethel United Methodist Church for an interview and some photos. However, we did not learn of one of their ministries until we were passing by a few blocks east on Saint John’s Place.
Last Wednesday afternoon on A Journey's drive in Crown Heights, one of our team members peered out the car window, pointed, and exclaimed “That's a religious site. House of Blessings! Wait...maybe not, an outreach center? A store? What is it?”
Words across the top awning read “Rising Stars Outreach Center – House of Blessings.” On display by the window front were blenders and kid's toys for sale.
I have heard that, “Curiosity killed the cat.” But I'd like to add, “Satisfaction brought it back.” A Journey is led by inquisitive minds, excited hearts, and hungry stomachs (we have our favorite eating spots wherever our journeys take us in New York City). I stepped out of the car and entered the storefront.
Inside, boxes of Ajax, scotch tape, and stuffed teddy bears randomly cluttered the shelves. Their price tags noted a dollar each, sometimes two. Behind the cashier's chair, air mattresses were stacked up against the wall for sale. The seemingly chaotic arrangement of inexpensive items resembled a dollar chain store. I would soon learn this store operated with a heart for the needy.
Owner Carline Burgin and her friend, Barbara Abraham, greeted me upon my entrance. Carline's husband, Pastor Dillon Burgin of Bethel United Methodist Church, founded Rising Stars to provide affordable goods to the underserved community of Crown Heights. From the vantage point at his church, which is across from a homeless armory on Bedford Avenue, Pastor Burgin noticed an acute need for items for everyday living at lower costs. He decided to help solve the problem by opening the outreach center in early 2011 on Utica Avenue. Last September, the store moved to its current location on Saint John's Place.
The Burgins buy their goods in bulk and sell without profit, which lets them slash prices. A canister of Ajax costs $1 at Rising Stars. “It's an outreach center. The community depends on this store. The stuff here is cheaper than anywhere else,” said Carline.
Although the items affordable, some customers receive them gratis based on need.
Burgin recalled a recent example, “There’s a lady who was a teacher. She would come in from time-to-time to purchase stuff for herself and for her students. There were kids who could not afford binders, so she came in and bought a few but she couldn’t afford the rest. I told her, 'It’s okay,' and I gave her the rest.”
Customers also get spiritual blessings.
“We know practically all of our customer's affairs and what's happening in their homes. We pray with them if they ask for prayers. If there's a need to talk about God, then we talk,” said Burgin. However, besides the sign on the awning, there are no apparent Christian messages in the store nor are there religious tracts displayed.
During summer days, they will organize a table outside with free items. What Rising Stars currently needs are “items of necessity, like paper towels and pampers. That's what customers come in for,” said Abraham. They accept donations at the store or the church.
Burgin paused for a moment and added, “There’s a joy in helping others so they can move forward.” Abraham seconded the sentiment with a nod of her head.
Donations can be dropped off at:
1524 Saint John's Place
Brooklyn, New York 11213
Bethel United Methodist Church
1325 Bedford Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11216