As we work together editing their belongings, my clients often hear me say, “I can take that to the free store!” They look at me puzzled. “Yes, there is a store in my hometown, where everything is free, no questions asked”, They accept clothing, toys, household items, baby gear and new or partially used toiletries and cleaning supplies among many other things. These last two items are things we typically need to trash when clients no longer want or need them. Many times, these lotions, shampoos, and cleaners are purchased only to be set aside for the next new thing, or clients don’t want to move them to their new home. I love donating these products because they are expensive to buy and are very useful. I actually love donating everything that I take there on my frequent visits. One of the services that I offer with my decluttering and organizing is taking a car full of unwanted or unneeded items to a donation or recycling place of my client’s choice.
The History of the Free Store
According to Marlene Imholte, the manager of the Free Store, it began as an off shoot of the “Wee Care We Share” program. A gentleman named Vernon Turner and his brothers ran this organization for 20 plus years. It started as a way to help young children and their families from Texas to Minnesota. The people who donated to the cause wanted a local outlet for people in need. Thus, the Free Store started in the basement of St. Luke Catholic church in Clearwater, Minnesota. That space was quickly outgrown and they started renting the space that they currently occupy, on Cherry Avenue and Highway 55. in Annandale, Minnesota, in August 2000.
Marlene and some of her friends began working at the Free Store after their day of work at the local school that same year. They are still there! All the workers are volunteers, and because of that hours are limited. Current hours are :
Check out their information on the online Annandale site
and follow their Facebook page for more information, https://www.facebook.com/people/Annandale-Free-Store/100080778849156/
Marlene shares that the hardest part of running the Free Store, in the beginning years, was getting money to pay the rent for the space they needed. They started in a single, small room. They now rent three rooms. One room is mostly used for storage of overflow items and seasonal clothing and décor.
“Wee Care We Share” helped with rent money when they started out. That program dissolved in 2008 and gifted them money that they had left to continue on. When they ran out of that money for rent, several organizations and individuals from Annandale donated money to the cause. They liked the Free Store concept because of the helping hand they gave to those in need, as well as a local place to donate good, no longer used items. Now, donated money goes to pay the phone bill, as well as rent. The following article is about a grant received by Centra Sota Cooperative and Cenex on the Free Store’s 20th anniversary.
The Free Store is a federal non-profit organization and now comes under the umbrella of “Annandale Health and Community Services”.
Covid hit hard, as they were required to close like many other businesses. Everyone was thankful when they were able to reopen.
Marlene shares, “It is amazing how God has answered all the requests that have come through the
Free Store.” She shared these two stories.
“A lady came looking for a double stroller for her small children. We did not have a double stroller and I had never seen one come into the store before. She shopped for a little while for kids clothing. Before she left the Free Store, a double stroller came in. She was very happy!”
“A few days before Thanksgiving, a teacher from school brought in a frozen Turkey. We don’t usually have frozen or cold food in the store. No place to keep it cold. I was not sure what we were going to do with the turkey but we took it. A short time later, a woman came in to pick up some needed clothing for her kids. The workers were talking about the turkey. The woman heard us talking. We asked her if she would like the frozen turkey. She started crying. She had no money or food for Thanksgiving for her family. We were able to find some other food to go with that turkey. Never had another frozen turkey come into the store after that. Coincidence”?
These stories warm the heart. My clients from all over the state are warmed by the concept of the Free Store, and soon I hear them saying, “take that to the Free Store.” We all want to contribute to the main goal of helping people in need of clothing, bedding, small household items, etc.
If you are interested in more information, or would like to be a volunteer, please contact me on my website and I will get you in touch with Marlene. www.keystolivinglight.com
Keys to Living Light Mission
My mission at Keys to Living Light has always been to “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”. I want to keep as much as possible out of the landfills, and into the hands of people who can use the items or recycle them. Please check out my Reduce, Reuse, Recycle page for many resources!