RINCON — Shoppers can multiply their gift-giving efforts many times over by buying items from Puzzle Piece Boutique.
Profits from the boutique’s eclectic mix of merchandise are used to provide people with disabilities a better quality of life through community awareness, support, resources, training and recreation.
The boutique opened in November 2019 in the United Way building at 711 Zitterour Drive. Its hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.
“The thought behind getting the boutique is that — one — a lot of the government grants (for programs for the disabled) were shutting down, the funds were shutting down. There was a lot of talk about that,” said Angela Jackson, Puzzle Piece Boutique’s project and design manager.
Jackson is also vice president of the Effingham County Navigator Team, which advocates for 60 families that deal with disabilities. She has an autistic daughter who is non-verbal.
“(The Navigator Team does) a lot of fundraising and part of that is not fun,” Jackson said. “We thought bringing in the boutique would recoup some of the money and help offset our fundraising goal.”
The boutique also accomplishes another crucial objective. It gives people with disabilities a chance to acquire job skills.
“We teach the kids — and I call them all kids, so forgive me — the hard and soft vocational skills so that, hopefully, they can have employment in their community,” Jackson said. “We want them to get comfortable whether it’s stocking inventory, working the cash register or special skills.”
One Puzzle Piece Boutique worker recently made the transition to a full-time job at a restaurant.
“We like to see them flourish,” Jackson said.
Many of the boutique’s products are made in the store. Philip Skipper, 36, has learned how to use a vinyl printer that applies designs and messages to mugs and T-shirts.
“I like working here,” he said.
In addition to mugs and apparel, Puzzle Piece Boutique sells home decor, housewares and much more. It recently received a supply of handbags.
“We try to support local businesses as best we can,” Jackson said, “and — when we do local — we try not to offer the same thing somebody down the street has.”
In some cases, vendors return a portion of their profits to the boutique.
“That’s what I really try to look for,” Jackson said. “Local, family owned and (money) goes back to a charity.”
Puzzle Piece Boutique sells Effingham Strong T-shirts. They were developed early last year as a way to help local businesses stay afloat during the COVID-19 shutdown.
The boutique closed for a couple months shortly after it opened because of virus-related concerns.
“We were being on the cautious side because we were still doing a lot of things,” Jackson said. “We were still getting merchandise in and tagging things. People were doing curbside (transactions).
“We just went home to kind of be safe.”
Puzzle Piece Boutique has an online presence. Its web address is https://www.puzzlepieceboutique.org/. It also lists its items on Etsy.
“We started selling in England, believe it or not,” Jackson said. “I thought that was really cool.”
The boutique plans to sell pocketbooks at the Effingham County Women in Business Dinner Fair in May and the Springfield Fall Festival in November.
All Puzzle Piece Boutique sales are final but the shipping cost is waved for purchases of more than $50.
Jackson is hopeful that boutique sales will grow to the point that it will have to find a bigger location.
She explained, “We are so small now because we wanted to know, ‘Can you do it? Can you have that little leap of faith?’ ”
Jackson can be reached at (912) 247-1335.