MANATEE -- The Christ Episcopal Church Thrift Shop, which uses its profits to help the area's needy, is among Bradenton's best kept secrets, perhaps because it is not on a main road, said its colorful manager, Lolly Weaver.
"I have had people in the neighborhood come by and, 'We didn't know what this was,' Weaver said last week of the store located across the street from the church at 4030 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.
While it is true that store regulars, who patronize the establishment from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, gave $17,457 for books, clothes, cookware, glassware, furniture and other items donated by congregation members in 2014, many came into the store just to hang out with Weaver and her husband, Jim. The Weavers are engaging storytellers and just plain fun to be around, especially when they brew fresh coffee and put out cookies for their patrons.
"They can pick you up if you are having a bad day," said Marilyn Moroni, one of a handful of volunteers who staff the store for Lolly Weaver, who has been a volunteer for four years.
"I would pay them to let me volunteer here," Moroni added of the store, which was formerly a house that the church bought, complete with a sparkling terrazzo floor in one room.
On a recent Saturday around 1 p.m., which is precisely when the Weavers are on duty, the subject matter for the day included all their passions, which are Jim's pet frog, Valencia, meeting your spouse via Internet, which they did, the church's creative outreach programs, and Jim Weaver's age.
"I'm 69," the sun-creased Jim Weaver told his wife in his calm voice.
"You're kidding me!" said Lolly Weaver, who first met her husband-to-be on Jan. 20, 2008 and, apparently, had never asked how old he was.
"We had both had prac
tice spouses before we met each other," Lolly Weaver said. "I had moved down here in August, 2007 and I wrote on this Internet site, 'I hate it here. I'm miserable. Someone help.'"
Jim Weaver, who has a PHD and was a marine biologist, wrote back, "I love the sun. I love islands. I love the ocean. Let me show you how you can love them, too."
That's how they started.
Now, Lolly Weaver raises butterflies from caterpillars in the couple's home and sometimes brings them into the store for customers to see.
"I am adored by a frog," Jim Weaver said.
"She loves him," Lolly Weaver said of the frog. "She knows him. He carries her around."
Jim Weaver has trained Valencia to jump for crickets. Jim Weaver has put videos of Valencia on You Tube.
But when it comes to the Christ Church outreach, the Weavers get serious.
The Weavers list off the church's biggest out-reaches, which include a pair of once-a-year events -- a shoe collection for the needy where church members bring new and barely used shoes to church called Barefoot Sunday in April and Sock It To Me on Undie Sunday in November where church members donate new underwear and socks. There is also a monthly event called Free Haircut Day and a weekly event called Lord's Pantry, which feeds the poor from 2-4 p.m. every Tuesday in a building behind Pinnacle Medical Group, 4110 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.
"I am stunned and humbled by how broad is the reach of this church," Lolly Weaver said.
Free Haircut Day, which is the second Tuesday of each month, is 1-4 p.m. Tuesday, May 12 at the Lord's Pantry. At that time, anyone who needs a haircut can get one courtesy of the church and Real Vision Barber Academy, said Christ Church Deacon Michael Sircy.
"We do the haircuts to make people feel better about themselves," Sircy said. "A lot of people who are down and out don't have self-esteem. But when you look good, you feel good."
The Weavers also applaud Sircy and fellow deacon Gretchen Platt for their constant visiting of the ill and dying.
"Our deacons are deep into this community," Lolly Weaver said.
At Barefoot Sunday this year, more than 1,200 pairs of shoes were dropped off," said The Rev. Joel Morsch , the church's rector the last nine years.
The church, which has four services on Sunday, including a Spanish-language service at 1 p.m., started Sock It To Me on Undie Sunday because if people got new shoes they still needed new socks and underwear to go with them, said Heather Whelan, the facilitator for the Christ Church evangelism and outreach committee.
"We have a very mature group of Christians at our church and many are involved in different social agencies," Whelan said. "Unfortunately, we don't have to look far to find people in need."
Whelan, whose husband, Patrick teaches world history at St. Stephen's Episcopal School next door to the church and whose youngest son, John, 14, is the best chess player at St. Stephens, continues to be amazed by what Christ Church's congregation members have done.
"We are all really shy for the most part," Whelan said of the church members. "We would rather put the focus on programs and need rather than the givers."
"We are told to love our neighbor as ourselves," Morsch said.
At least two Bradenton Episcopalians extend one of God's greatest commandments to a frog.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter@RichardDymond.