From Transactions to Transitions.

 By Lincoln Davies

When I pay a mid morning visit to meet new Mercy Hospice Shop co-managers Josie Sharma and Michelle Nola, the pavements of Blockhouse Bay shops are bustling with people from all walks of life. Perhaps reflective of the vibrant, multicultural community in which the store is located, the women say that trying to define just "who" their typical customer is, is not the easiest of tasks to do.

"Every day is different," says Josie, "You never know just who will walk through the door."

Michelle recognises that for many customers the motivation for going to the shop will simply be to complete a transaction. "Some people come into our store because they've heard that we stock quality second hand clothing at a reasonable price," she adds, "Others are on the hunt for vintage clothing or collectable items. Students looking for good labels flock to the store on the Saturday."

Both women, who have been in their new roles since June, are quick to point out that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Many customers, they say, aren't just in a place of transaction, but in a state of transition as well.

Michelle who grew up in this community does not take for granted that when someone gives up their clothing for Hospice that they could well be saying goodbye to a loved one for the last time. "Some shoppers find great comfort in just coming here because they know how important Hospice has been in their life," she says, "One customer comes in regularly to buy a DVD," she says, "Once they've viewed it they return it so we can on-sell it and raise more funds for our work."

For Michelle and older sister Tanya Schipper Mercy Hospice Shops started out as places where they could fuel their passion for fashion at very reasonable prices. Second generation Kiwis of Dalmation decent, the girls would hit the Mt. Eden, Ponsonby and Royal Oak Mercy Hospice Shops on a regular basis. As they grew to appreciate the charity's work, both decided to do their bit for Hospice by volunteering too.

Tanya started volunteering in the Mt. Eden shop four years ago and has been doing so ever since. In March 2009, much to the sister's delight, the Blockhouse Bay store opened. Starting as a volunteer, Michelle secured a job managing the store on Saturdays. Josie is also a Blockhouse Bay resident. She started volunteering with the shop one day a week and soon became a relief manager. When the role for a new fulltime store manager position was advertised both Michelle and Josie decided to apply "together". Following their successful application, Josie works Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays while Michelle works Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

All three women know first-hand what it is like to lose loved ones. Part of Josie's motivation for volunteering with Hospice, was to honour the memory of her mum, Bernadette, who passed away a year and a half ago. Sadly, Tanya and Michelle lost their mum Marion, 67 years old, to cancer just a few weeks ago. "Mum battled several illnesses through her life. It gave her great joy seeing us work for Hospice," Tanya says. The sisters say that Hospice played a vital part in caring for their mum, managing her pain, giving the family a break when they needed it, and enabling Marion to die in dignity with her children and loved ones around her. "The doctors and nurses were amazing," Tanya says, "Mum couldn't believe that they would come to her house. Nothing was a problem. If we needed advice at 2am in the morning they would be there for us."

Since Marion's death, both sisters have also come to appreciate the role Hospice has played in helping their family come to terms with their loss. Michelle says that even the shop has a part to play in her healing. "It's OK to shed a few tears every so often," she says, "Many customers know exactly what I have been through." All three women agree that this is just one reason why Mercy Hospice is such a great place to work and a charity worth supporting.

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