On a mission; Volunteers serve thousands at Richville Clothing Mission
They've helped families that have lost it all in a house fire.
They've helped young adults start out fresh after escaping a bad situation.
They helped one woman clothe her five kids while she went through nursing school.
And they helped a young bride find her "perfect" wedding dress.
They're the volunteers behind the Clothing Mission in Richville. And since January, they've provided more than 45,900 pounds of clothes to people in need in the community.
The volunteers have heard many stories like these over the years, Mary Hein and Winnie Huwe explained in an interview Tuesday. The two have been active in the Clothing Mission from the very beginning, and they serve as organizers today.
Since the Clothing Mission began in 2001, the need for clothes, especially children's, has continually grown. So far this year, the mission has served about 2,900 people and given away 6,600 bags of clothes. That's up significantly from a few years ago: in 2006, 1,042 people were served and 1,579 bags of clothes given away.
Hein and Huwe remember when Pastor Rod Tornquist first brought the idea of a Clothing Mission to his congregation at Richville United Methodist Church more than a decade ago. The congregation welcomed the idea, and the mission began with a handful of donations kept in an 8x12-foot shed.
As more and more people found out about the Clothing Mission, the number of those served expanded. Fortunately, the amount of donations increased, too.
Hein said every single time something has been needed over the years it has been donated within a short amount of time, upholding the mission's theme of, "God will provide for our needs."
Before long, the Clothing Mission had outgrown its 8x12-foot shed and moved into a 10x34-foot trailer. In 2006, it moved into its current location in the 3,500-square-foot basement of Richville United Methodist Church.
The Clothing Mission serves people from across five counties. Referrals are made by area human service offices, churches, food shelves, schools and social services.
Hein said first-time clients are often surprised that they can't "find a price tag on anything."
She has to explain, "It's all free, take what you need."
People who use the Clothing Mission are not asked any private information, and there are no income limitations. While the volunteers are great listeners, often offering an ear to patrons who need to talk, they simply count the bags that leave the store, for their own records.
Huwe and Hein both agreed that good volunteers are the most important element of making a clothing mission like this a success. Between 20-25 volunteers from various churches and communities around Richville spend a collective 200 hours a month in the store.
The volunteers pull clothes out of bags and boxes, sorting out torn or dirty pieces. All the rest of the merchandise is hung up and placed in the appropriate sections of the church basement.
One customer told Huwe: "This is so organized. This is so clean. This is like Herberger's."
The clothes are all hung up on racks, sorted by size and department, making browsing the room for essentials very much like a department store shopping experience.
This is a big improvement from when the Clothing Mission began, Huwe said, as clothes used to be stacked on tables for people to rummage through, more like a garage sale than a clothing store.
The mission relies solely on donations. One man donated a washer and dryer, another donated a sink, and many others donate clothes they no longer wear. All cash donations help purchase hanging racks, hangers and other tools for organization.
Huwe said knowing the Clothing Mission has helped so many people makes the hours spent sorting clothes worth it.
"It's a rewarding thing," she said.
The Clothing Mission is open weekly from 1-4 p.m. on Tuesdays and 6:30-8 p.m. on Wednesdays.