Five years ago, Potter’s Wheel Ministries Executive Director Tony Bergmann had a vision for a second boutique-style thrift store. That vision consisted of his understanding of God’s will for it — and that’s it.
“It’s my job to figure out what it is God would have us do,” he said. “When I started five years ago speaking about the store in Gering, people would say, ‘Well, where’s it going to be at?’ And I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know, it’s not my job. That’s God’s job.’ My job is to figure out what (He is) going to have us do. He reveals to me how He’s going to do it.”
God made it happen. With the help of a $7,000 grant through the private Immanuel Mission Foundation and about $9,000 in fundraising, Potter’s Wheel Ministries opened its second store at 1338 10th St. in Gering on Sept. 1. Its first store at 1815 First Ave. in Scottsbluff is celebrating its ninth birthday this year.
Founded in 1989 as a simple Bible study ministry for inmates, Potter’s Wheel Ministries is a non-denominational, non-profit and non-government funded organization with a purpose to minister to those in need and to share the Gospel. Since 1989, it has grown to include its two stores, a sober living program called Potter’s House for Men, a food pantry, E-Bay store and family services. The organization also has a 54,000 square foot distribution center at 118 E Overland that hosts all its donations for the pantry and thrift stores.
“We are a ministry; we’re not an agency. What sets us apart … is we do not accept any government funds,” Bergmann said. “Everything that we do, everything that happens here, stays here.”
Just walking into the store, you would never guess that everything is secondhand donations. Everything in their thrift stores are donated and then sold at a much lower price. However, part of Bergmann’s plan was to create a space that felt more like a boutique than a thrift store.
“We don’t look, sound, feel or taste like a thrift store. We’re more of a boutique,” he said. “Our goal was to provide a better, or (more) elevated sense of dignity for our guests — we don’t have customers, we have guests — for our guests that use that type of store. We also want to attract guests that usually don’t come to that type of store.”
Bergmann said the main goal of the two thrift stores is to make enough money to fund their family services ministry. This ministry includes providing a means for those who need help in just about any way, whether it is paying utility bills, getting a prescription, having furniture after moving to a new house, or providing assistance for child care.
“The function of the store is to make enough money to keep the doors open to give stuff away to those who are less fortunate in our community through family services,” Bergmann said.
Store Supervisor Heather Silva-Venturino added that when providing items or goods to those in need, the ministry allows them to shop around the stores, as well as the distribution center warehouse, so they not only are getting what they need, but are given a choice to pick out what they want. By selling donated items at the thrift store, Potter’s Wheel is able to provide these things free of charge to those less fortunate.
Silva-Venturino said the second store also provides better access to their ministry for those across the river. She said a lot of the people they serve might not have transportation, so having another location where they can connect gives them access to whatever they need.
“Some of our helping is by being that contact. There are a lot of needs that come in,” she said. “Some of the people, the guests, that come in are simply in need of prayer … Maybe they live alone and need that opportunity to get out and be able to interact with other people. Some of them actually need items or some of them might need help with bills…There’s more than one need we can help with.”
Bergmann attributes all the ministry’s successes to God, despite the fact that he has been with Potter’s Wheel since 2009 and grew the ministry from a prison outreach program to what it is today. He said he’s never impressed that God shows up to help him with growing the ministry, but he is always amazed by how He shows up.
“I’m just a guy. I’m not a pastor. I’m not a minister. I’m not a social worker or a case manager or community support worker. I’m none of those things … I’m just a guy practicing obedience to my lord and savior Jesus,” Bergmann said. “If you go over to my office, on my door the entirety of my nameplate – somebody made it out of a piece of wood burnt it on there – it says ‘Tony.’ That’s it. That’s the only title I need is ‘Tony.’”
Bergmann said the next project that is planned is to create a duplicate of the Potter’s House for Men and make it for women. Just like with the Gering store, Bergmann is placing all his trust in God’s plans.
“I only know what God will have us do. I have no idea how He’s going to do it,” he said.
Potter’s Wheel Ministries will be hosting a grand opening for its Gering store on Friday, Sept. 11. They plan to have goodies and activities all day to celebrate. The store’s hours for the grand opening will be the same as its normal hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
All donations are taken at the distribution center, which is located at 118 E. Overland. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. to accept donations. If you are in need of any of Potter’s Wheel Ministries’ services, call 308-633-2888, and someone will direct you to the service you are looking for from there.