In the early fall of 2010, a group of local women joined forces and opened a small, nonprofit shop in the back of Kelly Square in Sherman. The plan was for the shop to promote local artisans and eventually produce enough profits to donate the money to another local nonprofit or give a scholarship to a local student. The plan worked better than they imagined.

Today, the Women’s Gift Exchange occupies a large, premium spot in Kelly Square and, just last week, donated $12,000 to local nonprofits.

“I saw it as probably just a small endeavor and we might be able to make some little contribution to Grayson County charities,” Carolyn Nicholson, one of the charter members and a WGE volunteer, said. “After the first year, we were able to give away $1,000, and we just thought that was incredible and probably not very smart because it was all of the money we had. I just had no idea that six years later, we’d be in this beautiful shop and be able to give away a considerable amount of money to local charities. This year we will give over $12,000.”

WGE items range from high-end, collectible lines of items such as serving utensils and décor down to under $5 merchandise including greeting cards, Bridge tally sheets and more. Lots of the items are unique things shoppers won’t be able to find anywhere else. At this time, there are items in the store from almost 10 local artisans, but that number goes up and down based on what the WGE board approves. The remainder of the merchandise that fills the inviting store comes from other regional entrepreneurs, as well as choice items from the Dallas market. Finding local residents who create items that would fit well into the WGE merchandise realm is always a plus. Items being considered are taken before the WGE board for approval.

“We’re always on the look out for good items that are locally made because we figure that’s another way we can contribute to the community by supporting local entrepreneurs,” Nicholson said. “The number of locally-produced items varies. We have some local entrepreneurs that come in just for a little while and then we have others that we keep all the time due to customer demand. Some things stay the same as our customers really, really like them and ask for them. Otherwise, we try to keep things (merchandise) turning over and interesting so people can see and buy new things.”

The now popular shop is still operated by an all volunteer staff with the exception of store manager AshLee Carpenter, who originally ran a candy store, also in Kelly Square.

“I knew a little bit about the WGE because my mother-in-law, Marge Carpenter, was a volunteer here,” Carpenter said. “I started shopping here and I absolutely fell in love with it, so when they kind of asked me to be the store manager, it was a no-brainer.”

Carpenter closed her candy shop and sold all of her candy with the exception of her handmade truffle line, also made in Texas, and moved to the WGE. She and the truffles have been a mainstay at the shop ever since. She still enjoys the constant array of unusual items that come into the shop

“I’ve seen an increase in people, especially after we moved up here (to the front of the building from the back corner), and have such great natural light which makes it a warming experience,” Carpenter said. “It’s nice to see it grow over the years. We’re proud of that. … I enjoy the new ideas and different things that have come into the store — things I’d have never thought about.”

A service that’s difficult if not impossible to find year-round is gift-wrapping. The WGE offers it for a fee and the item doesn’t have to be something the customer bought in the shop. The customer can bring in items they’ve purchased elsewhere and have them wrapped. The shop also provides a line of custom embossed small cards used as invitations, thank-yous and more.

For the nonprofits aided by the WGE, the shop and its volunteers are lifesavers. The nonprofit program based in Denison is currently feeding 345 kids.

“This is the second time in three years that they’ve (the WGE) donated to us,” Sherrie Jackson with Kids’ Pantry in Denison said. “It helps stay able to help kids and we’re helping 345 kids right now. The funds we just got from the WGE will go to feed the kids at spring break.”

Kids’ Pantry was just one of 13 other nonprofits that reaped the benefits of the WGE’s success. Also on the donation list are: Grayson County College Foundation, Grand Central Station, The Dining Car, Meals on Wheels of Texoma, MasterKey Ministries, Family Promise of Grayson County, The Child and Family Guidance Center of Texoma, Children’s Express, Share: Taking It to the Streets, Grayson County Child Welfare Board, North Texas Youth Connection, Habitat for Humanity, and Divine Equine Therapeutic Riding Center.