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Giving back

Senior volunteers contribute to community

New Free Store volunteer Nicki Richardson prepares a hat for display at The New Free Store’s Holiday Workshop on Wednesday. Richardson, along with four volunteers from the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, and over a dozen others, have been working all year to collect and sort donations for the workshop, as well as the store itself, which is entirely volunteer-run and donation-based. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — A few hours of your time can make a big difference for others.

Due to this, older adults throughout Marquette County contribute thousands of hours to their communities each year through the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, providing a wide array of services to area residents and organizations.

One example of RSVP volunteer activities can be found at The New Free Store, a nonprofit located along M-28 East in Chocolay Township that offers free clothing, household essentials, toiletries and other necessities to those who need a helping hand.

RSVP volunteers Judy Kitchen, Jacquilyn Otis, Gloria Rinne and Lynn Emerick have contributed hundreds of hours to the nonprofit store, which is entirely volunteer-run and donation-based, said Mary Harris, RSVP director.

“They’ve been doing it for a couple of years, they do it so quietly without looking for any kudos for their efforts,” Harris said.

The exterior of the New Free Store, located along M-28 East in Chocolay Township, is pictured. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

Some of the volunteer duties at the store involve helping customers, sorting and displaying donations, fundraising, grant writing, cleaning and recycling.

“We appreciate working with RSVP and hope to continue that relationship,” said Otis, chairwoman of the New Free Store’s board of directors.

Otis said RSVP also serves as a resource when they need more volunteers for one-time events, such as rummage sales and fundraisers.

While shoppers must register with the New Free Store before shopping, it’s open to all.

“No shopper is turned away. We don’t have income limits. Everybody’s welcome to shop,” Otis said. “The philosophy is if somebody comes here, they must feel some kind of a need to be here.”

Cozy winter items sit among gift bags, books and other items at The New Free Store’s Holiday Workshop on Wednesday. The New Free Store offers free clothing, household items, personal care products and more to those who could use a helping hand throughout the entire year. There aren’t any specific income requirements, organizers said, but shoppers must register to be eligible. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

The store also offers gifts during the holiday season through its Holiday Shop, which allows the store’s registered shoppers to select new items — all donated or purchased with donated funds — for their loved ones, free of charge.

Organizers are grateful for all who have helped and donated throughout the year, said Kitchen, who serves as store manager.

“We had some 30 totes of Christmas items, both brand-new gift items and decorations,” Kitchen said. “So it’s all thanks to the donors and the financial donors.”

The opportunity to get these items free of charge can make a big difference for individuals, families and seniors in need of the essentials, as well as a bit of holiday cheer, they said.

“It’s a mutual feeling, the shoppers are very appreciative,” Kitchen said. “And we’re not doing this to get the hugs and the thanks and the accolades from the shoppers, but you get them.”

Socks, hats and other gifts are displayed at the New Free Store’s Holiday Workshop on Wednesday as volunteers prepare to open the doors to registered shoppers. Registered shoppers will have one more chance to visit the Holiday Workshop this year, as it will reopen from noon to 4 p.m. next Wednesday. Donations of gift items and decorations will be accepted from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

The New Free Store also provides something money can’t buy — a sense of community and connection, Kitchen and Otis said.

“The social aspect of our store has become very important to our shoppers, and to our volunteers,” Otis said. “The interaction between our volunteers and our shoppers is pretty key to what we’re doing.”

Volunteering at the New Free Store has brought them a great deal of joy in helping others, Otis said, and she highly encourages others to do the same.

“It only takes just your part,” Otis said. “You can’t go out and solve the world’s problems, but you can go out and solve a problem around you and encourage someone else to do the same thing.”

The New Free Store is located at 1420 M-28 East in Chocolay Township. It is open from noon to 4 p.m. on the first, second and third Wednesdays of each month, as well as 6 to 8 p.m. the fourth Monday of each month.

The Holiday Workshop will be open to registered shoppers from noon to 4 p.m. Wednesday. Gift and decoration donations will be accepted from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday. The store also accepts other donations, as well as Econo Foods receipts and returnable cans and bottles year-round.

The store is closed when Marquette Area Public Schools are closed due to weather. Call 906-362-3733 or visit www.thenewfreestore.org for more information.

Another example of a community contribution of RSVP volunteers is the recently-released Marquette County Aging Services Senior Services Directory, which was compiled by Marquette County Aging Services Advisory Committee members and RSVP volunteers Lynn Emerick and Joan Haara, Harris said.

“We’re very grateful for the amount of time that was put in as they worked together to put this together,” Harris said. “They had to do a lot of calling around and updating … it was many hours of effort and we appreciate their donation to the community.”

Emerick and Haara worked to “put together the necessities, the most commonly asked information,” Harris said, as those who don’t access the internet often need to have someone else track down the information about resources for them, which adds another step between a person and the services they need, Harris said.

“They were trying to meet the needs of our seniors who don’t use digital devices,” Harris said. “As the phone book slowly diminishes smaller and smaller they found there was a need for large-print resource information for seniors.”

The ad-free directory provides information that connects Marquette County seniors with resources from governments and nonprofits such as support services, senior centers, transportation, housing services, health services, veterans services, legal services, employment and more, Harris said.

The directory is available at senior centers throughout Marquette County, as well as several other locations.

“We’re making it available where senior services are,” Harris said, noting the guides can also be found at congregate meals offered through Community Action Alger-Marquette, as well as Lake Superior Life Services and Hospice in Marquette.

It’s also posted online, which allows for regular updates to the information and makes it easy for interested parties to download and print for a person in their life who might find the directory useful, Harris said. It can be found at www.co.marquette.mi.us/SeniorServicesDirectory2019.pdf .

For adults 55 and older who want to get involved with volunteering through RSVP, Harris recommends keeping an eye on the volunteer listings in The Mining Journal for more information about the various opportunities in the community and to call RSVP at 906-315-2607 when they see something that strikes their interest.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.