Staff Photo: John Bohn Mary Roberts, executive director of the Hands Across Duluth co-op thrift store poses for a portrait with a display of shoes that will be for sale when the store opens to the public on Saturday, June 23. A wide variety of items are available, including clothing, toys and household items.
DULUTH -- What started out two decades ago as a collaboration between 10 area churches to help families in tough financial times continues to grow.
With Director Mary Roberts at the helm, the Hands of Christ Duluth Cooperative Ministry is an ever-changing charitable group, expanding as it can to assist the needy.
Most recently, cooperative volunteers built a thrift store -- which will include everything from clothing to appliances -- which will act as a funding mechanism for the non-profit organization. The grand opening is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday.
Roberts said the store will be crucial in continuing a mission that began long ago. "It was a dream and a vision that has come true with the help of the Lord and the help of the community," Roberts said. "The economy like it is, funds aren't coming in like they used to, and this is a way to help out."
Added Roberts: "And we are debt-free, so whatever funding comes through the store -- other than covering maintenance costs and one paid worker -- will go straight into the ministry."
She said the ministry, which has more than 100 volunteers, aims to keep the shelves of its food bank stocked as well as having available funding for "families and individuals who need help with rent or utilities ... we don't want (any) little children or anybody for that matter sitting in the dark without power."
Duluth Merchants Association President Jim Johnson said it's an important role played by Hands of Christ.
"It's just been a godsend for the community," Johnson said. "And the community has really come together to support Mary in this endeavor."
Johnson said a thrift store is "unlike any other business. This particular one hopes to make revenue where they can ... fill in gaps for all the donations for their food pantry. It's all about funding that community food bank. I've often recommended to non-profits that they find a way to make cash flow instead of waiting for the donations to come in, and Mary has done just that. She's taken her own initiative to make sure there is a good stock of food in the pantry."
Roberts said there has been no shortage so far of clothing, furniture and toy donations to the thrift store, but she hopes the community will continue to drop off new or gently-used items.
"We want to be able to keep this up," Roberts said.
Johnson said the community should keep the store in mind.
"Pressures are even higher these days with unemployment, and people are losing their homes," he said. "There's lots of pressure to keep that pantry filled, and so the thrift shop is one way to ensure that there's enough funding so they can buy food as needed to fill in the blanks."
Regular store hours are from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information, call 770-623-9563, or visit www.duluthco-op.org.
The business is located at 3395 Fox St. in Duluth. Donations can be dropped off at the location.