New shop features items handmade by veterans

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Need some unique holiday gift ideas or perhaps some home décor items that add a distinct, patriotic flair to your residence – but don’t want to contribute to big box stores or the global mammoth that is online shopping giant Amazon.com?

Your mission is clear. Head down to Operation Made, located at 1050 Toll Gate Road in Warwick, and choose from hundreds of handmade items crafted by 26 different vendors, all of who are either active duty military members, former military members or military spouses.

The inviting store is the brainchild of Nicole O’Brien, a military spouse and owner of Unique PL8Z, and Greg Blanchette, a 20-year veteran former medic with the Rhode Island National Guard. The shop is located directly above the Unique PL8Z storefront, which Rhode Islanders might recognize from craft fairs around the state as the purveyor of interesting items forged out of old state license plates, including everything from key chains to birdhouses.

O’Brien said the inspiration for the new business came over the summer, and as city officials including Mayor Joseph Solomon, Ward 7 City Councilman Steve McAllister and council-elect Anthony Sinapi recently browsed the wares before taking part in a ribbon cutting, she praised the city for its assistance and simple process to open the business.

“It was painless,” she said of opening the store. “To see your vision come to life is just amazing.”

The shop features a wide range of boutique products, from coffee, to jewelry and fashion accessories, to motivational wood signs and homemade soy candles to posters and military style helicopters fashioned out of empty beer cans.

Kevin Hunold, a member of the Army National Guard, was on hand to talk about some of his items being sold at the shop. He showed off a variety of cutting boards, each incorporating multiple types of wood lovingly smoothed into shiny, polished surfaces. Towards the front of the store, he points to a wooden clock with a complex, copper-filled black epoxy providing context to the face.

You would think Hunold had been crafting his woodworking skills since childhood.

“About one and a half years,” he answered with a smile in regards to how long he’s been practicing woodworking. Hunold said he has always had an artistic mind, as he has always been drawing or painting something since childhood. He now has a shop space in Coventry where he manages his independent business, CenterPoint Custom Woodworking & Design.

While the whole concept of the store provides veterans and active duty military members and their spouses an opportunity to make some additional income and show off their artisanal talents, Operation Made is going a step farther to help support military members and their families.

A portion of purchases is to go towards setting up a competitive scholarship fund, called “MISSION: Start-UP,” to provide needed start-up money to encourage veterans to start their own entrepreneurial businesses. Funds will be awarded through a “shark-tank type/pitch event to be held yearly,” starting in 2019.

Donations to MISSION: Start-UP are also accepted through www.gofundme.com/mission-start-up.

“It can be difficult at first when you transition,” said Blanchette. “You miss the camaraderie of it.”

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