WATSON — Peggy Langlois never saw herself as a leader. God had other ideas.

For 22 years now, Langlois has been the manager at the Live Oak Methodist Thrift Shop. Before that, she saw herself as a follower, not the one in charge.

"The only reason I'm here is because God said, 'This is what I want you to do,'" says the former substitute teacher and school volunteer, standing amidst racks of gently used clothes, shelves of paperbacks with slightly curled covers and a corner dedicated to Christmas knick-knacks. 

Langlois is the lead elf, so to speak, among the 25 volunteers staffing the church-operated store. The shop, opened 35 years ago, is housed inside the former 1950s worship building on the Methodist church's sprawling corner lot, and adjacent to the present, much larger church building.

"Really, the volunteers make it run. We're all volunteers; nobody gets paid," says Langlois, checking around the shop before the 11 a.m. opening time on a recent Monday.

Shoppers have been perched on the porch for a while now waiting for the doors to open. That's typical, Langlois says.

"Some customers get here a half-hour early just to visit," she says. "We have a solid group of customers that come every Monday, Wednesday and Friday."

Langlois estimates 40-50 shoppers come through during the three hours the shop is open on each of those three days. Inside, they'll find clothes for babies to adults, purses, shoes, housewares, books, children's toys, jewelry — you name it — all donated by the members of the community who drop off all sorts of items on the old white church's side porch.

"We had three toilets," the manager says of the shop's oddest acquisition. "I keep saying I'm going to find a baby on the porch.

"I've found kittens, puppies … and a porno tape," she says, shaking her head.

With Watson's population on the rise, donations have swelled as well, Langlois says, so much so that often there's a sign outside saying "Do not leave donations. We are full."

"We're getting a lot more donations, but we're at a limit now with our building," she says.

Behind the shopping area are several smaller rooms accessed by a narrow hallway where incoming donations line the walls. Staff sort through the bags and boxes, separating items deemed sellable in the shop and those to be shipped to other outlets.

"If it's stuff we can't use, we bag it up and send it to Needy of Greater Baton Rouge," she says.

With the number of regular patrons the shop gets, Langlois says if something hasn't sold in two weeks, "it's probably not going to sell."

Those items passing inspection are modestly priced, with most clothing selling for $1 to $2 (designer offerings slightly higher), or for $10, shoppers can fill a store-provided bucket.

"I have counted 36 pieces of clothing in there," Langlois says with a grin.

The shoppers are a diverse bunch.

"Anybody and everybody," Langlois says. "We get the very, very needy, and we get people who could go anywhere and buy stuff. We're not just for needy people. We have a lot of people who just come because our prices are good."

And for some, like 87-year-old Barbara Truax, it's more than just a place to shop.

"First, I talk," the spry great-grandmother says. "We meet on the porch. We have a good time. I very seldom miss.

"I enjoy this. I don't know what I'll do when they close. I hope it's after I'm dead and gone."

She says she's been a regular "every time the door opens" thrift shopper for years for two reasons.

"The people, and they're so cheap on everything. Everything I own comes from here."

She also buys for her daughter, granddaughter and two great-grandchildren, who all live together in Denham Springs.

"Our mission is to get stuff to people who can't afford it. … Anything else is lagniappe," Langlois says, adding that for weeks after the August 2016 floods, the self-sufficient shop just gave away its stock.

"The money we do make, if a church needs something, if the community needs something, anything like that, we do it."

The Rev. Sam Lobello, the church's associate minister for special ministries, calls the thrift shop's work "amazing."

"It kind of reminds me of James, the brother of Jesus, when he said, 'Real religion, you know, is ministering to the fatherless, the homeless, the widows.' They have a heart for helping and caring for people," he says.

The work is never-ending, Langlois says, noting that she's normally oversees the shop on Mondays, Diane Beeson runs it on Wednesdays and Sharon Fairchild on Fridays. Langlois also puts in many hours catching up on donations when the shop's closed.

"It just feels good to be able to know there's people out there that need stuff and to know that we're getting it to them," she says. "It's a God thing. Every once in a while, over the years, it's like, 'God, I don't want to be here. I don't want to do this anymore. I'm tired of it,' and he keeps saying 'Stay.' This is where he wants me now."

Langlois pauses for a private chat off to the side with one of the "regulars." 

"That's part of my ministry, too, listening to people," she says on returning. "Because a lot of them have stories that they need to tell. … We don't counsel, but we sure do listen." 


Live Oak Methodist Thrift Shop

WHERE: 34890 La. 16, Watson

HOURS: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday and Friday, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Wednesday

INFO: (225) 664-0262 or loumc.org

Follow Judy Bergeron on Twitter, @judybergeronbr.