Help for Helpers: Free store seeks community involvement
The Berryville Free Store has been helping Carroll County families in need for 20 years and is seeking help from the local community to continue that mission.
Linda Holm, director of the free store, said she and her husband started the free store as a way to help those in need in Carroll County.
“It actually came from my husband in prayer one day,” she said. “We were kind of newer to the community, and we wanted to be a blessing and find a way we could help. It was pointed out to my husband that we should start something called a ‘free store,’ and we did.”
Holm continued, “It’s gotten bigger and bigger. We’ve always stayed sort of underground. We’ve been here 20 years, and most people in the community don’t even know we exist.”
She said the free store serves 2,000 families in Carroll County alone. She said they focus on reaching families and single parents who are struggling to makes ends meet, the terminally ill and elderly who are struggling financially, families who lose their homes to fires and other disasters, battered and abused spouses and children, caregivers registered with the Department of Human Services (DHS) requiring assistance for their foster children’s needs, students in need of coats during the fall and winter and grandparents who are now raising their children’s children.
“We really want to reach the neediest of the needy,” Holm said, “but, to be frank, we haven’t really turned anybody down.”
The free store has a signup process, she said, and clients are asked to bring in their financial information. She said volunteers go over the information to determine how often an individual or family gets to shop at the free store.
“A single person would be different than a person with a bunch of kids,” Holm said, “and someone who is a little higher financially is different from someone who is lower financially.”
As a foster parent herself, she said she is passionate about the idea of being able to help foster parents provide for their foster children’s needs.
“We get children at midnight with nothing,” Holm said. “They have no clothes, no bedding, no nothing. We’ve gotten a baby before without a car seat. As a foster parent, you’re left asking ‘How do I get to the store?’ So we’re really trying to angle on the foster care program and help those families in Carroll County.”
The only people the store has ever turned down, she said, are people who don’t follow the store’s rules.
“The only people we’ve turned down are people who have gotten ugly and made a scene in the store,” she said, “and don’t want to obey the rules.”
The free store’s goal, Holm said, is to reach people for God.
“That’s why we do what we do. It’s to reach people,” she said. “We want to do what scripture says, and you’ll find scripture after scripture in the Bible that says clothing the poor and the needy is what we need to do.”
Holm said the store follows the mission of Matthew 25:40, which states “In as much as you do it to the least of these, you did it unto Me.”
“I’ve done the jail ministry in Carroll County for a long time,” she said, “and the two went hand in hand really well.”
People are able to drop off donations in front of the store at 120 E. Church St. on the Berryville Public Square, and Holm said they ask that people not leave donations out when the store is closed. The store’s hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursdays.
“We’re open on the ’T-days,’ so it’s easy for people to remember,” she said. “We ask people not to leave donations when no one is in the store because they’re either getting stolen, which happens daily, or they’re getting pilfered through. People pick what they want and leave the mess just sitting there where it gets rained on and blown into the street.”
Holm said it creates a mess in front of the free store and its neighboring businesses that the volunteers have to clean up.
“The volunteers we have are disabled adults, so to be out there in the cold and weather picking up all this stuff isn’t easy,” she said.
She said they have also had a problem with people dumping garbage in front of the store.
“A lot of it is just garbage people didn’t have to put in their own trash can,” she said. “It’s broken TVs and broken furniture. We have a sign out front that says ‘We do not take furniture, mattresses or TVs of any kind.’ ”
The issue, she said, is that the store has to pay to have someone pick up the furniture and take it away.
“We’re a nonprofit, so that is coming out of the pockets of our volunteers,” Holm said. “We ask that people please not dump those items in front of our store and only drop off donations when someone is present in the store.”
This is particularly an issue in December, she said, because the free store is closed for most of the month for its Christmas Room program. A Christmas Room is set up in the store each December, she said, and about 30 families in Carroll County are referred to the program by the community.
“These aren’t necessarily clients,” Holm said. “Most of them have come out of our community and are referred by school counselors and therapists. These are people who have fallen through the cracks, and we call and tell them they’ve been referred to the Christmas Room.”
The families get to visit the Christmas Room by appointment, she said, and it is filled with brand-new donations, such as toys, coats and clothes.
“They get to go through the Christmas Room and pick out a gift for each one of their family members,” she said. “It’s kind of a big thing, and that’s why we close part of December.”
Another of the free store’s programs, she said, is the back-to-school program.
“That is for our clients’ children,” she said. “We let them come in, and they get a little shopping basket of their own and get to shop through used clothes, new shoes, socks, undies and school supplies. It’s a cool program.”
In addition to keeping an eye on the donations out front, Holm said the free store is seeking help from the community with funding.
“We absolutely need funds,” she said. “I have one family in Carroll County that has literally paid the free store’s rent for a year just to keep us going. It blows me away.”
Holm continued, “We’re reaching out to churches to help keep it financially afloat.”
She said the free store recently got help with repairs on Thursday from Berryville High School student Montana Engel, who volunteers at the store. Engel said he is part of the Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) program at school, and his facilitator was encouraging the class to come up with a project in the community.
“I immediately thought of this place,” he said, “because I volunteer here.”
Engel said he formed “Project Porch” to help repair the roof over the free store’s back porch and asked the community to come together and help with the project. Hanby Lumber Company donated all of the supplies needed for the project, he said.
“I wanted to get people involved in supporting the free store because we need to help ourselves as a community,” Engel said, “and push ourselves forward to excel.”
He said he is also developing a webpage for the Berryville Free Store that will also list other community resources.
To make donations or for more information on the free store, call 870-423-9115.