In an effort to keep up with changing times and changing demographics in the Northland area, members of Church of the Good Shepherd United Methodist have launched a store.
It doesn't charge a thing for gently used clothing and small household items.
The goal of the program is to help the less fortunate in the neighborhood, while also helping them to hold on to their pride, according to the Rev. Don Wallick of Church of the Good Shepherd.
"We think it offers a little dignity to families to say they're going to the store rather than say I'm going to get charity," he said.
The "sale" of donated items takes place at the church, 6176 Sharon Woods Blvd., from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. the third Saturday of each month. Donations are accepted during Sunday morning services and every Wednesday from 10 to 11 a.m. and from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.
"The free store idea is something that's been around," Wallick said.
The Good Shepherd Free Store is modeled on one at the Church and Community Development for All People UM Church on Parsons Avenue.
"The United Methodist Free Store provides clothing and household items to families in need in a hospitable atmosphere that affirms the self-worth of each individual," the church's website states. "More than 40,000 families have become members of the Free Store since we opened our doors in January 1999."
"One of the things we've been doing at Good Shepherd is taking a look at the changes in the community around us and trying to respond to those changes," Wallick said, noting a drastic increase in the racial and ethnic diversity of what was once an "upper-middle class destination area."
"For the last several years, we have been working on a committee ... to help our church move from being a suburban church to being an urban church," said Paula Nourse, a member of the congregation who heads the free store ministry. "This used to be a suburban area, but it's becoming an urban area. The inside of church didn't change much with the changes in the demographics outside."
"There's a whole lot more poverty around our immediate area than there used to be," Wallick said. "We decided probably almost a year ago that we needed to move in this direction, but it's taken awhile for us to get our ducks in a row and get this started."
After receiving instruction and advice from people at the United Methodist Free Store on Parsons Avenue, volunteers from Church of the Good Shepherd opened their version on Oct. 19.
Only nine families were served, Nourse said, but that was OK because it gave Good Shepherd Free Store volunteers a chance to figure out how best to handle the operation.
The number of families stopping at the free store doubled in November.
"It's going well, I think, and the major concern for me is really getting the word out and how to do that," Nourse said. "We just want to get the word out and know that once people learn about it, they are going to be our publicity for us."
She said she is hoping to have donated toys available at the next scheduled free store day on Dec. 21.
"We want to have a Christmas spirit about it," Nourse said.
"We have very little storage in the building so we need to get more people to come to the free store," Wallick said.
And the church has little in the way of rules regarding who the store will serve.
"Anybody can come and shop in the free store," Wallick said. "We have no income requirement."
Store volunteers issue membership cards in order to keep track of who is being served.
"For me personally, part of what I think we're supposed to be about is find the folks who are on the margins, the folks who have a hard time being included, the folks who don't have the resources other folks might," Wallick said. "I think that's part of what a church should be doing.
"It's always good to send a check somewhere ... but if you're going to really live out to what we should be as a church, you need to have that connection in person."