Sozo Trading Co., located in the Avondale neighborhood of Birmingham, is listed as a thrift store on Google. But when you walk inside the double glass doors into the giant warehouse-style building you can instantly tell that Sozo is about more than just cheap clothes and old granny couches.
Thrift stores are commonly equated with helping people; they provide low-income families with clothing or a college student on a budget with unique finds. At Sozo, however, the help extends beyond these people groups and into Uganda—the heart of Sozo’s mission.
Sozo Trading Co. is the sustainable income source that funds Sozo Children, a nonprofit that runs three children’s homes in Kampala, Uganda. It is an “upscale thrift marketplace” that sells handmade items from Uganda in addition to typical thrift store items. Sozo also serves as a space for local vendors to sell their unique vintage and handmade items in 24 booths throughout the converted warehouse.
Katie Colucy, a current student at Highlands College, has been volunteering with Sozo for about five months, but has been involved with the organization for two years. “My heart is for Uganda,” she said. “I actually moved to Uganda with Sozo for eight months when I graduated high school. Now I go to Highlands College, and my goal is to work here when I’m finished with school.”
Colucy helps out with the daily functions of the store, including sorting donations and running the cash registers. Her favorite part of working in the store is the people and their unique stories. “We had one lady come in and I said, ‘Hey, how are you?’ and she said, ‘I’m blessed, I have everything God could give me; I’m good, my Mom’s good, nothing’s wrong!’ and I was like, I want [her] attitude.”
Behind the Trading Co. is Sozo Children, a nonprofit that aims to “glorify God through saving children in need, building community, and connecting individuals to experience the love of Jesus Christ” according to their mission statement. Barrett Tanner has been an active part of living out that statement through a trip to Uganda with Sozo and now serves on their Sozo Children Associate Board. Tanner said her favorite part of the mission statement is that Sozo is committed to raising the children in their own culture. “Our children are raised by Christian Ugandan men and women in their own culture so that they can grow up to be Christian leaders in their own country.”
Each summer Sozo takes a small group of summer interns to Uganda where they serve in the children’s homes for eight weeks. Madeline Zaragoza was one of the students from Samford selected to go during the summer of 2016. “[Going to Uganda] was eye-opening, encouraging, exhausting, and rewarding.” she said. “I saw things that I didn’t expect to see, both in Ugandan culture and in my own life…I left refreshed, encouraged and with community of people who now know me better than anyone else.”
100 percent of the profits from Sozo Trading Co. go directly to fund the missions of Sozo Children, which is what draws many customers to shop at Sozo. “I love shopping at Sozo because I know it’s going to a good cause,” said Sarah Nichols as she was browsing the selection of oversized men’s flannels. “You want to give back in some way, but as a typical broke college student it’s hard to do that sometimes.”
Sozo Trading Co. is more than a thrift store where you can furnish your first apartment on the cheap or find the perfect oddities for Halloween. It’s part of a larger mission to spread the Gospel, and filled with people who have a heart for the children in Uganda.