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Thrift store shuts but food shelf remains

 

May 29, 2020

Jana Peterson

Despite the Salvation Army store closing, food shelf organizers say more room will make the community service more functional.

With the permanent closure of the Salvation Army store last week, Cloquet is now officially a thrift store desert.

The Salvation Army Northern Division blamed "the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic" for the closure of the thrift store at 316 Carlton Avenue in Cloquet, along with stores in Morris, Faribault and Fairmont.

"This is the type of decision that is tough to make, because it has an impact on staff and the communities we serve," said Lt. Colonel Lonneal Richardson, commander of The Salvation Army Northern Division, which covers Minnesota and North Dakota. "Because of the lost revenue from being closed and the challenging retail environment ahead, these stores would not be financially viable in the COVID-19 era."

The shopping floor of the store on Cloquet Avenue was devoid of clothing, books and household items by Friday, stripped down to the bare bones of the retail floor - empty shelving, bookcases and clothing racks.

The closure comes almost 17 months after the Cloquet Goodwill store closed and leaves the city with no places to shop for used clothing, although there are stores like Nantiques where people can find used books and other items.

The social programs will remain, stressed Joanne Lee, service extension director for The Salvation Army Northern Division and a former Cloquet resident.

"All of the social services are going to stay and that's the most important thing for the community to understand," she said. "We really want to focus on our mission, which is helping people in need."

Salvation Army programs provide basic needs assistance, housing, youth services, rehabilitation, disaster relief, counseling and more. Although they have not yet filled a vacant social worker position, Lee said people can call the division headquarters at 651-746-3407 or visit salvationarmynorth.org. to find out more about the different ways they can help.

The Salvation Army Northern Division recently introduced an Emotional and Spiritual Care Hotline at 877-220-4195, which operates seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

One of its most visible local programs is the food shelf, which distributes food every Tuesday, 8:30 to 11:20 a.m. and 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. It's a drive-through service now because of the pandemic, so people can just pull up in a vehicle and get a box of food, plus meat and bakery products. All the volunteers need is a name along with the number of people in a household so they can provide the proper amount of food. Volunteers load everything into vehicles.

Surprisingly, demand for the food shelf's services have not increased during the pandemic. The local branch serves 22 to 45 people, some representing large households, and others who live alone, including some elderly clients.

Lee said they've been working with B&B Market in Cloquet, marveling at the number of donations to the local grocery store and meat market, which has raised more than $100,000 since March to pay for groceries for people in need.

"On Tuesdays if we have a lot of leftover things we don't think are going to carry over until the next Tuesday, we just give (B&B co-owner Kim Lind) a call," Lee said. "They have been distributing on Wednesdays so it works out well. It's been a really nice partnership."

In addition to the Salvation Army food shelf, on the third Thursday morning of each month the Second Harvest Mobile Food Pantry comes to the Our Savior's Lutheran Church parking lot in Cloquet to distribute food 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Ruby's Pantry also comes to the church on the fourth Wednesday of each month.

The thrift store will not remain empty, Lee said. They want to move the food shelf operations into the store area and hope to turn it into a "super shelf" sometime in the future. They plan to apply for some grants to purchase more freezer and refrigerator space, which would mean more room for food storage versus the cramped space they have at the back of the building now.

"The move will give us a lot more room," Lee said. "Even as things get back to what we call normal in the future, I'm sure we will have to maintain social distancing and wear masks, so having the space will really help."

It wasn't just the forced closure of the store during the governor's stay-at-home order that contributed to the store's demise. The loss of grant money for several jobs in the thrift store - overseen by the Minnesota Work Force Center - would have made continued staffing at the store a challenge, Lee said.

Want to help?

Jana Peterson

Zina Micklewright, Caren Watts and Melissa Diver were the three remaining employees at the Cloquet Salvation Army Thrift Store. Along with 16 other full- and part-time employees across four stores in Minnesota, their jobs are being phased out and the store closed.

While donations of grocery items to food shelves are much appreciated, cash donations are even more helpful, because the area food shelves purchase many food items through the Second Harvest Food Bank. According to Second Harvest, for every $1 donated, they can secure and distribute food for five meals to people facing hunger by working directly with farmers, wholesalers, packers, shippers and retail partners.

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Open to all

The Salvation Army food shelf is open Tuesdays 8:30-11:20 a.m. and 1:30-2:30 p.m. It's a drive-through service for now, and you can just pull up in a vehicle and get a box of food, plus meat and bakery products. All the volunteers need is your name, and the number of people in the household, so they can right-size your box of food. Call 651-746-3407 to find out more about the different Salvation Army programs to help people in need.

Cloquet is served by two other charitable food services. On the third Thursday morning of each month, the Second Harvest Mobile Food Pantry comes to the Our Savior's Lutheran Church parking lot in Cloquet to distribute food 10:30-11:30 a.m. Ruby's Pantry comes to Our Savior's on the fourth Wednesday of each month and costs $20. Both are currently drive-up services.

 
 

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