By Tina Montgomery
There’s a Bible verse that commands us to take care of one another, especially widows and orphans. James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” [NIV] That verse is the inspiration and mission for Diana Sanders, owner of Mercy’s Closet in Minden.
Mercy’s Closet, a non-profit thrift shop, opened its doors in March 2019. Compelled by her experiences growing up, as well as the closure of the Goodwill store in Minden, Sanders wanted to provide help and give dignity to people who are having a hard time.
“I grew up nearby [the store] in an abusive household. We were super poor, four kids in the house. I remember what it was like to be teased at school for what we were wearing. It was just laid on my heart to help others like the Bible verse about caring for widows and orphans,” Sanders said.
This past July, Mercy’s Closet supplied 1,350 school uniforms for people who qualified during its 3rd annual back to school give away; the greatest number since the store opened. Sanders said they receive donations of school uniforms all year round and hold them for the back to school event.
The thrift shop offers free clothing and home furnishings for people who qualify. Qualification is financially based although there are other situations in which people are able to receive items for free. A short application has to be completed at the store and proof of income is required. Sanders said foster children are automatically qualified, regardless of income.
Mercy’s Closet also gives clothing to people who are domestic abuse survivors, recently released inmates, house fire victims and natural disaster victims. Each situation requires proof in the form of a police report, release papers for former inmates or some documentation for victims of natural disasters. Sanders said there are other circumstances which are considered when someone is in need of clothing or furnishings.
Recently, Sanders learned from social media that an elderly gentleman was in need of a bed. He had been sleeping in a recliner. She posted about the need on Facebook and said that donations came in almost immediately to make a complete bed with linens which was given to the gentleman.
“I’m a firm believer that when God wants you to do something, be obedient, he will make a way,” Sanders added. This year alone she said they have given away more than 30,000 items of clothing for people in need.
Although Mercy’s Closet is a non-profit, it is not funded in any way except by sales from people who shop the store. All items in the store are available for purchase by anyone and priced to fit any budget. There are various racks of clothing in the store that are priced according to name brand and condition. Sanders said there is always a rack of free clothing at the front of the store for anyone to get without qualifying. She said sometimes people don’t want to give financial information so the rack is always filled with enough pieces of clothing to make complete outfits. People who do qualify for free clothing have the same access to everything in the store as people who can pay.
“We are not completely self-sufficient, but we’ve always had extra [money and items] to donate to other non-profits in the area. I work 40 to 50 hours a week, unpaid, all volunteer time,” she said.
Sanders does have a paid staff to operate the store and they are paid above minimum wage. “I wanted to make sure they could make enough for living expenses.”
Sanders said although Mercy’s Closet is there to help people in need, they have experienced some thefts. Still following that Bible verse, she said she has tried to work with those who are arrested by offering volunteer hours for them to work off the theft.
“It’s tough to be merciful when it seems everyone is out to take advantage of you,” she said.
Mercy’s Closet not only takes clothing donations, but furniture and household items as well. Donations have to be dropped off at the store Sanders said because they are not covered by insurance to pick up items.
Volunteers are always needed to help sort through donations. Sanders says she has one full time volunteer and 2 part time. She said that anyone needing service project hours can find plenty to do at the store.
Donations of any clothing, household items or furniture are welcome any time. Sanders said their greatest need right now is women’s underwear, new or gently used, and men’s socks.
“Those are our most requested items,” she said.
From giving a bed to an elderly person to a foster child getting nice clothes to feel included with his peers, Mercy’s Closet is filling a need in Minden. A need and a mission inspired by one woman who was led by God to help others because she “was one of those kids.”
Mercy’s Closet is located at 609 Sibley Road in Minden and they are open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.