By MARIA ANNE TOLAR
BEAVERTON — A step of faith often has small beginnings.
For a high-end resale shop in downtown Beaverton at 4775 S.W. Main, the first step began as a desire to take sandwiches to the street people in downtown Portland.
Back in 2010, two women at Portland Christian Center shared the same fervent desire to reach out to the poor and needy. One wanted to take coffee to them. But Tanya Hawkins had once been one of the street people herself, almost homeless and often hungry. She volunteered to bring 125 sandwiches.
Every other week they pushed their coffee cart under the Burnside Bridge and, along with the food, learned to pray for people just by asking if they needed prayer. “They always had prayer requests,” Hawkins recalled. And their needs were sobering, heart-wrenching.
To raise money for sandwiches, she organized garage sales. When she ran out of items to sell, friends at the church responded in such a big way Hawkins and her husband, Ben, ran out of garage space. By August 2011, both had decided she needed a shop — a permanent funding source for the needy. Success wasn’t guaranteed, but they both agreed, “If the Lord is in it, He’ll open the floodgates.”
The premises they found in southwest Portland needed work. Hawkins and her husband, both with years of experience in property management, asked for five months rent free in exchange for Hawkins overseeing cleaning and professional painting. During this time, to her amazement, a high-end resale shop in Lake Oswego closed and the owner donated all of that shop’s clothing racks and furnishings to Hawkins’ new venture.
A month and a half later, the shop, by then called Gung Ho Ministries, opened. Volunteers, many from Portland Christian Center, signed up to help out with customers. Word spread. Within five months, the shop was profitable.
Soon after opening, the ministry’s mission changed, requiring a new step of faith. A Veterans Administration caseworker, learning of the shop’s nonprofit status, phoned with an urgent plea for help. Hawkins was shocked to learn of the extreme need of veterans, some homeless, in the Portland-Vancouver area. She and her new board — made up of volunteers who also bring special skills to the job — prayed and agreed: helping veterans would be their top priority.
Gung Ho Ministries’ veteran outreach is personal and focused. Providing thousands of dollars each month to select veterans, it focuses on delivering a sizable one-time gift for housing-related emergencies — mortgage or rent payments, utilities, “keeping the lights on,” even car payments. The ministry addresses major needs of at least 10 veterans referred by churches or caseworkers. Hawkins, as founder and executive director, keeps permanent records of names and met needs of all the veterans for whom the ministry helps and prays.
By late August 2017, the ministry had raised well over $100,000 for veterans, yet now faced a dilemma. The rent on the southwest Portland shop had steadily escalated. Confronted with yet another increase, the board met for prayer, seeking the Lord’s direction. They came to one mind: By September 30 they would move or close permanently.
Within a week, a real estate agent from the church stopped by with a photo of an unusual, rarely-listed property in nearby downtown Beaverton, an 1880s historic home, originally built as a parsonage. Zoned both commercial and residential, it was for sale. The downpayment required, however, was beyond their reach.
When Gung Ho Ministries personnel shared their quandary with the staff at Portland Christian Center, a number of the church’s businesspeople stepped in to help. Forty days later, Gung Ho Ministries Boutique officially opened for business in its elegant new home. The day was Nov 10, 2017 — Veterans Day.
Even with mortgage, property taxes and utilities, the new shop is considerably less expensive to operate than the former rental. With more room, Hawkins added a space for a complete line of men’s clothing. Now, veterans who are helped are also invited to select a complete outfit as a gift.
The focus of the shop remains to help the needy, so another important outreach is assisting people returning to the workplace who need a high-quality but inexpensive wardrobe. The board members, all regular volunteers at the shop, are able to help. Board treasurer Amy Korkowski, a CPA who once volunteered with Dress for Success, even advises about resumes. Board member Sheila Barger, a volunteer since the shop opened in 2011; chair Vi Bytwork, on the board since 2014; and board secretary Susan Furnish are all eager to help.
Donated clothes continue to arrive daily, every item put to use. After clothing and accessories are selected for the shop, the remaining clothes are distributed, some to local churches. Each week a large shipment goes to Union Gospel Mission’s thrift store in downtown Portland, and to their women and children’s shelter. Another large bundle of clothing is sent along with the sandwiches-for-the-needy ministry that another couple from Portland Christian Center now manage.
Even with all the other outreach, helping veterans remains the heart of Gung Ho Ministries, from the American flag flying daily outside the door, to the customers they attract who are thrilled their purchases fund such a worthy cause. The Lord has indeed opened the floodgates for the ministry to bless veterans. From 2011 to 2019, in a span of eight years, it has given almost a quarter million dollars to local veterans.
“It’s been pretty cool,” Hawkins said with amazement. “This has been the most rewarding experience of my life.”