Free Store moving to Lakestate property

HARVEY – People who depended on the Free Store for basic needs – but had to go without them after the closing of Grace United Methodist Church in January – shouldn’t have to wait long to have those needs met again.

The new Free Store is expected to relocate at the rental building adjacent to the vocational training center of Lakestate Industries, 1500 E. M-28. Lakestate is planning an open house from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 20, with a grand reopening of the Free Store set for the same time.

Shelby Bischoff, business development and community engagement manager for Lakestate, said the company, which provides vocational career exploration, job development, work training and job services to adults and students, is excited about the Free Store relocating next to its center.

Due to the closing of the first store at Grace United Methodist in Marquette, there had been a search for a new location, the Free Store and Lakestate found each other through community connections, Bischoff said.

“The new Free Store offers a wonderful service to our community, and folks can shop for many much-needed items such as clothing, shoes, boots for the family, as well as toiletry items such as toilet paper, toothpaste and brushes – and the list goes on,” Bischoff said. “This is truly a win-win for Lakestate Industries and the new Free Store. We are thrilled to have them in our neighborhood.”

Jackie Otis of Marquette has been involved in the Free Store, which, she said, has served about 680 families in the past 2 years.

Since the closure of the the store’s umbrella 501(c)(3) in January, volunteers have been working hard to bring the new Free Store to the area.

“We have not been on hiatus for one minute,” Otis said.

The Community Foundation of Marquette County gave it a $3,500 grant, plus it brought in about $3,000 from a Lions Club breakfast, she said. Individual donations also have poured in over the last seven months.

The items that have been collected since the closure, she said, have been kept in a storage unit and two garage units, with people holding onto things as well.

“The only thing we had been lacking was a place to put our stuff,” Otis said. “Although there were many what we thought would be positive opportunities, they just didn’t work out.”

That problem has been alleviated with Lakestate accepting the Free Store as tenants beginning Sept. 1. Otis said the Free Store will rent the building for a “minimal” free.

Renovations will have to be made to the building, she noted, as it hasn’t had water or heat for the last five years. That said, people will be needed to help the all-volunteer organization.

“We’ll be looking for volunteers like plumbers, carpenters,” Otis said. “We’d like to have our bathroom door made handicap-accessible and all that kind of stuff.”

Although items are in storage, they aren’t getting out to the people who needed them.

It is hoped that will change with the new location since there are plenty of area people who can use what the Free Store offered at Grace United Methodist Church, which closed because of financial and other reasons.

“What we give to community members is quality used clothing, linens, infant supplies, personal hygiene products and housecleaning products,” Otis said. “Those are things that they cannot purchase with their Bridge Card, but everybody needs.”

The No. 1 item people look for, she said, is – no surprise here – toilet paper.

What might be surprising is the Free Store’s clientele.

People who came to the Free Store, Otis pointed out, are not necessarily homeless people, although once in a while it would get people from Room At The Inn because the store had an affiliation with that organization at the previous location.

“We’re serving young families that their income doesn’t quite cover all of their needs,” Otis said.

Grandparents raising grandchildren and people with disabilities who have low income, she said, also are served at the Free Store.

“We just felt that that was a niche that wasn’t being served, that people need deodorant and toothpaste and toothbrushes,” Otis said.

Try getting a job if you’re unkempt.

“We had a number of shoppers come to us because they needed clothing for job interviews, and were successful in getting jobs,” Otis said.

And getting a job is a big step to daily independence.

“They’re just wonderful people, and all they’re looking for is someone who cares enough to help them,” Otis said.

People interested in volunteering for the Free Store should call 362-FREE, email the newfreestore@gmail.com or visit www.thenewfreestore.org.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.