It started as a Bible study among members of Elyria First United Methodist Church, an effort to provide the needy with diapers for their babies.
The church was donating boxes of diapers to several local agencies that dealt with crisis pregnancies, when “we thought, why not do this in-house?” said Alyssa Hodge, who was tasked with heading up the project.
Six months ago the church started the free hygiene and baby store, providing necessities that many low-income families cannot provide for themselves. Food stamps and emergency food pantries do not provide items such as diapers, wipes, feminine hygiene products, razors, soap, toothpaste or home cleaning supplies, Hodge said.
“That’s our mission. There’s no real place for people struggling with laundry soap or things like that,” she said.
The church spread the word about the store by using social media, distributing flyers to other churches and agencies and telling the people who come to the church’s hot community breakfasts on Sundays. The store for now is open only one day a month, from 10 a.m. to noon every third Saturday.
The first month, it had six customers.
The second month, 40 people showed up in need of items. Now they’re seeing 65 or more, and plan to add a second day starting in January because of the overwhelming need.
The details aren’t set yet, but Hodge said it will likely be a weeknight to accommodate those who work on Saturdays and cannot make it. She estimates at least 40 percent of her customers are working but struggling to provide for their households on one income. The rest are often older, and sometimes disabled.
“We see a lot of single moms with babies, or parents who are working one job and not making enough for a family. We see a lot of the disabled. We have one lady, she has three kids with disabilities. One has cerebral palsy, one has multiple sclerosis and one has autism, and she can’t work around taking care of them,” she said.
Hodge said she was a newlywed when the church started a diaper ministry and “I didn’t really see how extreme the need was in our community was for diapers until I got pregnant and started adding things up,” she said. “People are coming in, and they’re so grateful.”
Customers who show up are asked to show proof of residency — usually a utility bill — and are allowed to shop on their own, rather than being given a designated number of items. Certain items are restricted; things like new towels, socks or toothbrushes are only available once every two or three months, she said.
Although the hygiene and baby store is strictly a nonclothing store, just recently Hodge put out a request on social media for baby clothes.
“What spoke to my heart was these children coming in month after month in the same outfit and it’s either really dirty or they’re too big for it now,” she said.
One family has three little girls and the mother told Hodge she has no cold-winter clothing to pass down to the newborn because the older children were born in summer. Hodge donated what gender-neutral clothing her son has outgrown, but didn’t have any girl clothing to give.
“You see all these little kids coming in with tattered clothes and you just want to take them home and make it better. I just pray for these people. It’s definitely close to my heart,” she said.
Donations can be made from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday at Elyria First United Methodist Church, 312 Third St. For information, or to arrange for donations to be picked up, call (440) 322-6622. Items needed are toilet paper, dish soap, baby shampoos and lotions and diaper wipes.
Contact Rini Jeffers at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.