Inside the headquarters of Storehouse Ministries, men, women and children rushed through the open warehouse with their lists in hand.
They had 15 minutes to pick out the items they needed. Some went to the furniture, inspecting gently used couches or small desks where their children could do their homework.
Others picked through bins of soap, shampoo, razors and deodorant. A few started picking up jackets and sweaters before winter set in.
Residents had been waiting more than one hour for the doors to open. Once it was their turn to shop, they had a rigid time limit to pick up the things they needed.
“Most food pantries don’t give those sort of things out. Even if people go to a pantry for food assistance, they’re not getting this type of stuff,” organizer Paula Mills said. “But the truth is we’re running out of stuff.”
Storehouse Ministries was created to help needy families with everything from furniture to clothing to hygiene items. Organizers focused on the items that government assistance and local food pantries don’t provide — mattresses, toothbrushes, diapers, blankets.
Residents in need can pick up toys and books for their children or used cribs for an infant to sleep in. Basic needs such as toilet paper and feminine hygiene products are some of the most requested.
“It just comes in and goes out. Our whole purpose is to be a conduit so that people who have items to donate can give them us and get them to people who need it,” Mills said. “It’s all part of God’s economy. It belongs to him anyway, and it just flows through us.”
Founded in September at Grace Assembly of God in Whiteland, the charity has seen participation stay steady almost right from the first night that it opened. About 200 families have been helped so far, with most of the clients coming more than once.
Most of the ministry’s clients have come from the Chin refugee community, Mills said. Organizers had contacted pastors from throughout the southside. When the Storehouse opened, pastors and members within the group flooded it.
The second day it was open, more than 120 people came looking for assistance, Mills said. Much of the Chin community she’s worked with include large families of refugees living together under one roof. People are sleeping on the floor, so any kind of proper bedding only helps improve their quality of life.
“Our client base has climbed much faster than our donation base has grown, so we are constantly running behind on donations,” she said.
Mills, who had been involved with food pantries and outreach ministries at Mount Pleasant Christian Church, saw an opportunity to fill a need that was going unmet in Johnson County.
Needs keep rising
While attending Grace Assembly of God in Whiteland, she found a group of like-minded people who wanted to help fill that niche.
“When you look at the population around here, there are lots of food pantries and some places that give out clothes. But no one that I know around here gives out furniture,” she said.
Teri Shehorn, a member at Grace Assembly of God, was drawn to this idea of a new way of helping people. She volunteers regularly to sort donations, helps guide families through the warehouse and bags up their goods when they’re done shopping.
She had noticed recently that a lot fewer people have furniture and other goods to donate, while the need just keeps going up.
“A lot of people are really benefiting by getting things like couches and mattresses. You’d be surprised how many people are sleeping on the floor, without the ability to buy any kind of bedding,” Shehorn said.
Dennis Helke, who has operated the Living Bread Food Pantry for the past five years at Mount Pleasant Christian Church, had seen the need for a furniture ministry. He tried to start one but found that his facility didn’t have enough room for it and the food they distributed.
When he touched base with Mills, they decided to try and start Storehouse Ministries. Helke’s wife, Jeanne, and son James volunteer with him. They regularly drive throughout the county and central Indiana to pick up mattresses, furniture and other big items.
“It’s so important for people who have to start over. Maybe they had a fire, or they’ve just come to this country. They wouldn’t have a place to sleep otherwise,” Helke said.
Pastor Wayne Murray of Grace Assembly of God agreed that there was a need and helped support the effort with space at the church.
Donations, workers needed
Every Monday, Tuesday and a few Saturdays a month, people gather outside the converted warehouse that serves as Storehouse Ministries’ home base. Many arrive hours before the doors open in order to get the best selection.
If clients need something that the Storehouse doesn’t have, they can sign up for it on a wishlist.
“Most of the larger furniture is called for before it comes in. I have to start calling people on the wishlist to find out when they can come in and pick it up,” she said.
Storehouse Ministries doesn’t want to compete with other assistance programs, Mills said. Rather, organizers work with local agencies that don’t provide these types of things to ensure people’s needs are fully met.
Cleaning products, wash cloths and towels are not survival-level needs such as food but aren’t luxury items either, Mills said. Storehouse Ministries can provide some of those goods that most people take for granted.
“If we can give them basic things like toothpaste and toothbrushes, you can’t get those through food stamps,” she said.
In order to remain open, Storehouse Ministries relies solely on donations. People who are cleaning out their houses give old furniture or bring in boxes of used clothes that no longer fit.
Corporate sponsors help to purchase new hygiene items.
Organizers have asked local churches and schools to spread the word that the ministry exists. Not only will that help reach the people who need their help but hopefully will catch the attention of potential donors.
Mills also is looking for volunteers to help with loading, stocking shelves and sorting at the warehouse.
“I see people coming to get what they need. If you can look at somebody and clothe their kids, that’s huge,” Mills said. “We’ve been able to give people things that they can use for Christmas. To be able to do stuff like that, it’s huge.”