Church offers clothes, care items and a connection to those in need

Published 4:00 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Sarah Kocher, for the Tribune

NEW RICHLAND — It doesn’t sound like the kind of place you’d hold Sunday School.

Yes, it’s in a church basement, but the space is stocked with bedsheets, clothing, pots and pans and towels. But those supplies (and the people in charge of helping them find new homes) are how a church in the New Richland area turned two empty Sunday School rooms into free thrift store and a space for human connection.

Email newsletter signup

This is Shepherd’s Robe, which provides these items (and more) to the local public for free. Co-coordinator Pat Miller, who runs the space alongside her sister, Sandy Prechel, said the store is an expansion on an effort started by a husband-wife team. The couple ran a small free clothing and houseware shop out of their home until they weren’t able to anymore, Miller said. And at the time, Vista Covenant Church was looking for new ways to reach out to the surrounding communities.

Miller said when it was announced at church that the in-home free store was going to close, “several people just kind of drove home that Sunday and thought, ‘Hmmm. I wonder if that’s something we could do at Vista.’”

Within four months, Shepherd’s Robe was up and running in the two empty Sunday school rooms. (A third is used in the winter for boots, coats, mittens and other cold-weather gear.)

In addition to thrifted items, Shepherd’s Robe also supplies free personal care supplies like toothpaste and deodorant and free underwear, all of which it orders upon request from individuals who come in. The church funds the purchase of these items.

“We feel good about being able to help with those basic needs for anyone who needs them,” Miller said.

The free store, which opened in April 2021, has also been an eye-opener for church members about the need in the community, which Miller said she’s seen become “so much more desperate in these last couple years.”

“The need has definitely grown, even in the almost two years that we have been in operation, and it’s not only clothing and the kinds of things we do but just a need for human connection,” she said.

Shepherd’s Robe is open on Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. During the evening hours, the church also serves a free meal.

That meal has been a catalyst for other opportunities to help community members, Miller said.

“It’s the connections that we’ve seen (make) a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “It’s a safe place. It’s certainly made us more aware of how fortunate we are and more aware of the needs of others than ever before. And our congregation does really support us by volunteering, by giving, by praying and by showing up to help.”

Miller said Shepherd’s Robe had 1,600 people visit in 2022, and every quarter, more people come. The store is staffed entirely by volunteers.

“It isn’t a place where we make people feel uncomfortable with a lot of preaching,” Miller said. “That’s not our goal. Our goal is to simply connect – and it happens to be in our church building.”

According to Miller, it’s likely that the next goal for Shepherd’s Robe is to add another open day.

“I love this ministry,” she said. “I’ve bought into this ministry…. The stuff is important. The connections that we’re making are even more important, I think.”

To schedule a donation, contact Miller at 507-661-0886.

The church is at 14679 275th Ave., between New Richland and Waseca.