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Mom helps others like her

Sylvia Robinson was barely old enough to drive when she got married. The 16-year-old quickly realized she was in over her head.

Content, but not happy, she resigned herself to making the marriage work.

But faith alone was not enough. She found she had nothing in common with her partner, and the two of them grew apart.

Eleven years and one child later, the marriage ended in divorce. Soon after, she lost her high-paying job financing automobiles.

With no job, no car and no money, Robinson again was left to rely on faith. This time, it was faith in God that pulled her through.

Following the teachings of the Bible, Robinson sold most everything in her home to survive. All that was left were the beds, a television and the kitchen table.

Then she began to pray.

Robinson said that within 24 hours God provided her with a job, a car and enough money, mostly through donations, to bring her house payments up to date.

"I told him then that if he ever put me in the position, I would help women in the same situation," Robinson said.

Today, she is making good on that promise.

In June, Robinson opened the Widow's Oil, a thrift shop that caters to the needs of single mothers and their children. The shop serves as a ministry to what the Bible refers to as "all orphans and widows," which, according to James 1:27, includes women and children who have lost men in their lives either through death or divorce, she said.

Robinson said she was led to the name, the Widow's Oil, after reading 2 Kings 4, the same Scripture that led her to sell her belongings. In the Scripture, prophet Elisha instructs a widow to sell anything of value in her home to buy food for her children _ in this case, a jar of oil.

Once naming the shop was out of the way, Robinson set her sights on finding the right location. She didn't have to look far.

Robinson said God led her straight to U.S. 19 and Stockton Plaza, north of County Line Road, where a real estate broker gave her a deal on rent. When word got out about the shop, donations poured in from as far away as Michigan.

Only four months later, the thrift shop is staffed by volunteers and survives on a budget of 70 percent donations and 30 percent profit. Its customers come primarily from referrals through three local churches: Emmanuel Christian Church (of which Robinson is a member), Upper Room Church of God and the Haven of Rest Assembly of God, all in Spring Hill. Most are single mothers.

"You know with Christian principle: If you see a need, you don't turn your back," Robinson said. "Because it is a ministry, a lot of what we have we give away."

Among the items sold at the shop are small appliances, furniture, pictures, clothes, toys and a limited number of food packages. Some financial assistance also is available.

Robinson said she already has achieved her short-term goal at the Widow's Oil: to help single mothers with small bills and necessities. The next goal is much larger, she said.

"To be able to buy houses and get them in there for the rent they can afford," Robinson said.

Robinson's current husband, Rob, also is part of the ministry. He and several other men formed a group called Saturday Saints, which completes odd jobs and home repairs the women otherwise could not afford.

The Saints, who also work from church referrals, have mended burst drainpipes and broken air conditioners, as well as repaired cars for single mothers.

Robinson said both ministries are a labor of love.

"I want all the glory to go to God. I don't want any of the glory to go to Sylvia," she said.

Donations to the Widow's Oil are accepted during regular business hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Stockton Plaza, 124 Commercial Way in Spring Hill.

For information, call 686-0048.