Little shop of angels at Church of the Nativity

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The Little Angel Gift Shop at Church of the Nativity in Burke was low on inventory after the 12:45 p.m. Mass Jan. 4. Christmas trees once covered with religious-themed Christmas ornaments were nearly bare, with just a few ribbons clinging to the empty branches. Shelves that held medals, missals and rosaries had just a few leftovers, while shoppers looked for deals on the clearance table.

Parishioner Rosemary Bishop bought a large cross that she found on one of the tables.

"I love shopping here," she said. "There are so many beautiful things."

But shop manager Natacha Hines said that low inventory is normal after the Advent and Christmas rush. She'll soon be reordering from her supplier. She said that besides Christmas, confirmation and first Communion bring in a lot of customers. In fact Hines, an accomplished seamstress, makes Communion veils for the shop. Her sewing skills came in handy recently when she patched a large hole in Father Robert C. Cilinski's alb. She was able to match the pattern perfectly.

The Little Angel Gift Shop was founded in 1988 by parishioner Fay Zumasky, who saw it as a way to raise money for the parish. She started to sell items from glass cases by the entrance to the sacristy. The pastor gave Zumasky a little corner of what was then the multipurpose room. That corner became the current gift shop.

In 2007, the person managing the shop left the area, leaving no one to run things.

According to Hines, Father Richard B. Martin, who was then pastor, said "If no one takes it over we'll have to shut it down."

Hines, who had worked at the shop since 1988, took over managing the operation.

Father Martin expanded the shop and added a fair trade area with coffee and chocolate grown by small farmers in developing nations who receive a fair price for the labor.

The shop is open daily after every Mass. Hines has nearly 20 volunteers who come to the store to manage retail sales. She likes to have three people in the shop to serve customers.

Therese Malambri and Cristina Yelicie were helping Hines after the late Mass Jan. 4. People came in to say hello and to wish the volunteers a happy New Year and shop.

Malambri says she loves working at Little Angel and adds a bit of professional experience to the mix having worked in retail for many years.

"It's my little touch of retailing," she said of her time in the gift shop.

The shop has many repeat customers who have been shopping there for years.

Hines said that working in the shop is fun and exciting and she hopes it will continue to be a valuable service to the parishioners. Father Cilinski plans to remodel the front of the church where the shop is. But Hines believes it will have a place after the renovation.

The shop continues to thrive after Father Cilinski became pastor following the death of Father Martin last year.

"Our wonderful volunteers make the gift shop an 'evangelization zone' promoting faith in so many ways," said Father Cilinski.

Borowski can be reached at dborowski@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @DBorowskiACH

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015