Secondhand News: Give back by “shopping” your local church

December 7, 2015

Credit: Lauren Flynn Kelly
BY LAUREN FLYNN KELLY —

BY LAUREN FLYNN KELLY —

When patronizing a big-box thrift store, it’s often unclear who you’re helping in the process. Will the proceeds from your purchase benefit charities nearby? Will your donated clothes be sent abroad to people in need? Sometimes you just don’t know, especially when that store is owned by a for-profit, privately held company.

At the Hyattsville Compassion Center, however, the mission is clear: support local families in need with food, clothing and spiritual guidance. Located on the campus of the Redeemer Lutheran Church at the intersection of East West Highway and Queens Chapel Road, it is one of 10 thrift and donation centers of the Lutheran Mission Society (LMS) in the Maryland/Southern Pennsylvania region.

Not technically a store, the nonprofit center accepts “donations for handling” for like-new items that include clothing and shoes for all ages, linens and housewares, accessories, books and magazines. Center Coordinator Anita Whetstone said she finds that many people come in for the basics — kitchen items like a blender or a barely worn winter coat. The Center even distributes diapers at an extremely discounted handling fee of 10 cents per diaper. “We’re always conscious of who our visitors are and what their needs might be. It’s how we decide what to put out,” she said.

The center is open Tuesdays from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. But on Saturdays, something very special happens. On these “ministry days,” the center sees clients who cannot afford to make donations for their clothing, and supplies each family up to a certain amount of clothing and food. They can also visit with a pastor, and see a “faith community” nurse, Jeanine McGrath, who provides medical or nutritional advice and performs simple tasks, such as blood pressure checks.

The food donations may come from church members collected on Sunday after service, when a grocery cart is placed outside the sanctuary with notecards explaining its purpose and a shopping list, from members of the nearby Trinity Lutheran Church in Mount Rainier or from LMS headquarters. Anyone is welcome to donate non-perishable food items or make clothing and other donations to the thrift center. The center is now collecting contributions for its annual “Miracle of Christmas,” and on Dec. 18 will distribute food and gift boxes for eight chosen clients, two of which have been “adopted” by Trinity and by a local couple, respectively, to cover all their food and gift needs for the holiday.

“The beauty of this ministry is that some of the clients that have been helped through here, they come back and donate when they’re back on their feet,” said Whetstone. “And we have a very healthy donation cycle. We are getting tons of donations, which is the lifeblood that keeps us going.”

Since becoming the center coordinator in June, one of Whetsone’s goals has been to boost the amount of volunteers. Whetstone and her staff make sure that the items being displayed are high-quality and not excessively worn or dirty. With relaxing classical music and seasonal displays to boot, visiting the Hyattsville Compassion Center is a pleasant “shopping” experience overall.