Baraboo’s free store provides more than shirts and shoes and socks. It offers opportunity and dignity.
Neighborly opened 10 years ago in the lower level of First United Methodist Church downtown. Volunteers cleaned up a room previously used for storage and stocked it with unsold clothes from garage sales.
Today, the store gives away more than 11,000 donated garments each year, plus $2,000 in new socks and underwear purchased through local churches’ “Undie Sunday” fundraising drives.
Each Monday afternoon and Tuesday evening, volunteers move racks of clothing into a main room for people in need to peruse. Volunteers restock the inventory throughout their shifts, as hundreds of patrons and their children visit the store each month.
Shoppers learn of the store through Sauk County Human Services, the Hope House domestic abuse shelter and the local warming shelter.
“They can shop with dignity,” said Jo Heath, who volunteers on Tuesdays with a crew from St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. “What’s remarkable about it is there’s no questions asked.”
Here, the unemployed can find attire appropriate for a job interview. Struggling parents can bring home pajamas for their children.
Candice Wade said she volunteers at Neighborly because she grew up in a low-income household. She remembers receiving donated secondhand clothes, sorting through garbage bags for items that weren’t too worn or stained, things she’d feel comfortable wearing to school.
“Neighborly gives those in need a sense of dignity by sorting through those clothes ahead of time,” Wade said. “There are no garbage bags for patrons to dig through.”
Wade works with job seekers in her job at Forward Service Corp., and understands the need for pride, as well as clothing.
“When people walk through Neighborly’s door, they see a clean, well-lit space,” she said. “They see neat rows of racks with good clothes that a person can feel confident wearing to school or to a job interview.”
Co-founder Peter Murray said Neighborly has thrived thanks to supporters willing to donate their time, as well as their clothing. In the past year, nearly 70 volunteers have worked about 1,200 hours at the store. Girl Scout Troop 2878 teams with Devil’s Head Resort for a winter coat drive each year. Lands’ End, Outlets at the Dells and Recycled Sally’s donate clothes from their stores.
“It works only because of the generous community,” Murray said.
He said cooperation among churches, nonprofits, businesses and individuals will continue to propel Neighborly into its second decade. “It keeps going,” he said.