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Luther’s “Free Store” Re-Opens June 1

Bison Blinds

Luther —Most of us call it the “Free Store” around here. On the corner of Ash and First Streets, across the way from the volunteer Luther Fire Department, the Luther Community Service Center will re-open on June 1, 2020.

For two decades, the non-profit organization founded by the unforgettable Ruby Stahl has served, and served and served. Food, clothing, household items, prayer – the ministry provides relief for families in our small town who find themselves in a “constant financial struggle.”

The store is open on Monday mornings and Thursday evenings. Donations resumed last week and will be held in a sort of quarantine in a tent and shipping container in the parking lot. After a time, the items – ranging from gently used clothes, small appliances and fixtures that are working and clean – will be sorted and checked for quality before entering the rotation inside the store.

The free store and donation collection halted soon after the state ordered “shelter-in-place” guidelines in March. The re-opening will come with some new rules in efforts to be mindful of spreading the virus.

New Guidelines for the Luther “Free Store”

  • Shopping divided into 20-minute intervals
  • Those aged 65 and older shop first at 10 am on Mondays; 6 pm on Thursdays
  • Those in the 50 – 65 year old age bracket will shop the next 20 minute slot
  • All-age shop begins at 10:40 am on Mondays and 6:40 pm on Thursdays
  • Eight shoppers will be allowed in the store at a time
  • Masks are required for all. Some will be provided including masks made by Glassic Designs.
  • Gel hand sanitizer will be available at the front door
  • Shoppers are asked to keep social distanced while waiting in the parking lot
  • Find other information at the center’s Facebook page.

Mark Hagewood is the center director, and has streamlined and expanded the work Ruby created more than 20 years ago in the former grocery store site. His lifelong mission experience has prepared him for such a time as this, ministering through a pandemic. He’s no stranger to it.

Mark and his lovely wife, Carolyn, spent 24 years in Brazil, and walked through many health crises through their church work there. Yellow fever, Zika virus, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria are a few of the health threats they faced in the South American country. He says his Brazilian brothers and sister are resilient. “We pray a whole lot,” he said and has been able to participate in online services, just as he does with his Luther congregation.

The Hagewoods keep in touch daily and monitor the worrisome numbers of Covid-19 cases in Brazil that Tuesday outpaced the United States in daily deaths.

In Luther, he is managing the risk while resuming services to neighbors who need it.

“Luther is largely spared of the pandemic because we are isolated and have low population density. It’s not because we’ve been careful or are tough people. We’ve had the good fortune because of our location. We are blessed, let’s not throw away that blessing,” said Mark.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, Luther has three reported Covid-19 cases.

Mark said those in the high-risk category are in danger of dying, literally. He said that half of all people infected with the novel coronavius have no symptoms. “That could be me or you.” He said the reason they are opening with the new rules is to try to prevent tragedy.

Feeding the hungry

On the first three Thursday mornings of each month, the Luther Community Service Center also distributes groceries. On a recent Thursday, there was a bounty – fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, bread, juice, snacks and more. Volunteers set-up the well-oiled distribution line to place the boxes of food into vehicles that line up on neighborhood streets. Normally, this part of the ministry helps more than 150 families a month with food.

Chris Hill, minister at the Luther Church of Christ, said they saw an uptick in families needing food in April, but in May, the numbers dropped some, perhaps because the distribution of stimulus checks gave folks an opportunity to buy food at grocery stores.

Longtime Community Center volunteer John Gardner and Chris Hill prepare for a recent Thursday grocery distribution.

They expect the need to increase as the crisis wears on and unemployment grows.

The food for the grocery distribution primarily comes from the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, and is funded through donations. Hill said a recent $2,000 donation from Central Rural Electric Foundation will do much to sustain the work. Food is also donated from schools, the post office, Boy Scouts, and other individuals and groups

A time unlike any other

Summer is usually a busy time for the Service Center, but this year will certainly be different. Chris said all of the youth groups that come from all over to spend time in Luther, some from Tennessee and other locations, have cancelled their trips because of the pandemic. Those groups normally participate in projects to paint or repair houses, produce Bible Schools for children and work in the service center.

Somehow, the work at the service center, including preparations for special projects like the Christmas store, Thanksgiving Meal drive, back-to-school backpack giveaway and all of the other programs will be back, in its time.

To support the work of the Luther Community Service Center, visit here for a secure website for tax deductible donations for the non-profit organization, and to find out how you can help.

Visit Luther Community Service Center online.

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