Colorful, hand-painted murals and classic cartoon characters adorn the entryway of an old church turned into a modern thrift store, complete with stained glass windows and a sprawling altar now covered in eclectic furniture. The owner of the store greets each visitor with a welcoming smile, eager to chat or show newcomers around the vast, two-story building.
On a slow afternoon, Lyz Farrar is likely to be found in the store’s basement amid rows of meticulously organized toiletries. She buys necessities in bulk and donates them to the elderly, one of the many groups of people Farrar has devoted her life to helping.
Before creating her charitable thrift store, Donate a Miracle Thrift Store & Boutique, Farrar owned a restaurant in Texas. While driving to the restaurant one day, Farrar saw two hungry young men on the side of the road and offered to feed them for free and give them part-time jobs.
“I just felt called by God to do something like that again,” Farrar said. “In the restaurant, I could feed a couple people, but not a whole lot because you can’t afford it. So I thought if I had a thrift store and people are giving me stuff, then I could help a lot of people.”
Farrar founded Donate a Miracle in Norman in 2012 as way to help feed, clothe and give back to those in need.
“Every day someone walks through that we help,” Farrar said. “I’ve noticed Norman is a very giving town, so we try to give back. We won’t turn anyone away.”
Before opening her store, Farrar was passionate about helping others, but she had little experience in business or finance, so she enlisted the help of her best friend Karen Bacon, who later worked as the store’s accountant and office manager.
Farrar set up her business to have two components: half of the store functions like a regular business, and the profits are used to finance her charity, Saks Outreach, and other philanthropic endeavors. Most of the items available for purchase inside Donate a Miracle have been donated.
Once people donate items to the store, Farrar sells them and uses the profits to finance the nonprofit side of the business so she can donate clothes, food and other necessities to the elderly, homeless and others in need. Farrar partners with local charities and organizations including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Central Oklahoma Community Mental Health Center.
However, Farrar’s dream of helping others and maintaining a successful thrift store came crashing down when Bacon was diagnosed with lung cancer.
At the time, Bacon was the only person with the knowledge and ability to access the business' taxes, finances and account passwords, but her memory faded quickly while she was sick. Bacon became unable to remember the passwords she had created and passed away three months after being diagnosed.
“After she passed away, I went through a depressed state. I didn’t do anything for that year,” Farrar said. “My books had gotten so far behind, and I didn’t even know how to do my taxes. She had done everything.”
Donate A Miracle was at risk of foreclosure by the Oklahoma Tax Commission when one of the store’s customers, Stephanie Sullivan, a graduate from OU's Price College of Business, noticed the struggles the store was facing. Sullivan then petitioned one of her old college professors to take on Farrar’s store for an undergraduate field project.
Each year, undergraduate seniors majoring in management information systems at OU have the opportunity to take a capstone class called Field Project. In the class, students work with real businesses to try and solve a problem for them, said management information systems associate professor Albert Schwarzkopf, who teaches the class.
“The academic goal is to have students experience a real project, to understand what the business needs and make sure the solutions you come up with actually add value to that organization,” Schwarzkopf said.
To help Farrar manage her finances and get the store back on track, a team of six students devoted their semester to working with Donate a Miracle. They tracked the store’s inventory and expenses, set up the technology needed for Farrar to do her bookkeeping online and helped teach Farrar how to maintain a successful small business in the digital age, Schwarzkopf said.
The Field Project classes love working with charities and nonprofits that do not have the resources to hire a consulting firm to help solve business problems for them, Sullivan said.
“It was a big blessing, and I owe them a lot,” Farrar said. “I was about to lose my mind, but I couldn’t let this place go because I’d be letting a lot of people down.”
Jordynn Smith, a management information systems master’s student who worked with Donate a Miracle for her Field Project class, said the experience helped her realize there’s more to business than just financial success.
“(Farrar) has the biggest heart of anybody I think I’ve ever met,” Smith said. “Her heart was the whole reason that place was going. It’s the whole reason she has customers come in and donate to her because they support her, believe in her and knew her passion was so great. Had she not had that foundation of who she is as a person, I don’t think she would still be in business.”
Since working with the Field Project class in the spring of 2018, Farrar has kept up with her bookkeeping and has the knowledge to run both a thriving business and nonprofit organization, she said.
These days, Farrar has more time to focus on her charity, Saks Outreach, which donates supplies such as toilet paper, shampoo and deodorant to the elderly — a demographic she feels is often overlooked.
Farrar also partners with roughly 40 philanthropic organizations in Norman including mental health programs, churches and food kitchens. The organizations inform Farrar of what items people need, and Farrar fills the orders. She also welcomes people in need who come directly into the store looking for help.
“We’ll do whatever we can to help people, and if I don’t have what they need, I send them somewhere that I know might have it,” Farrar said. “We don’t let anybody walk out of this store (without) help.”
Donate a Miracle Thrift Store & Boutique is located at 315 Alameda St. The store is open from noon to 7 p.m. on Monday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and is closed Sunday.
There is a box placed in front of the store where visitors can leave donations. The store is currently in need of small furniture items such as end tables, nightstands and hygiene products for the elderly.