The neatly-lettered sign out front was inconspicuous; the facility was less than grand — but even before mounting the steps to the small, beige tin-sided space, indications were that something special was going on inside. Easy banter and laughter were heard from the other side of the door, and someone coming out with a plastic sack wore a genuine smile.
On Tuesday morning, the Rockhill United Methodist Church clothing ministry in Oktibbeha County had an active pulse. The compact building across Rockhill Road from the church is only about 20 feet by 30 feet and packed with racks of clothing, shelves of shoes, a table of jeans and even a few previously-loved toys. From a portable TV on a folding table, host Drew Carey joked with “The Price is Right” contestants while a pedestal fan at one end of the room and a window unit at the other did their best to score points against the summer heat stoking up outside.
About a dozen people filled the place, browsing the racks or visiting. At the center of activity was Donna Poe, cheerful in pink and keeping an eye, without seeming to, on what needed to be done.
Poe oversees this outreach program that is open Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 11 a.m. It’s something she’s been dedicated to since 2009, when her pastor, the Rev. Jerome Wilson at Rockhill, first suggested the concept. Initially, it was open one day each week. When Poe retired from her job with the Mississippi State Department of Health after 28 years, however, she was all in.
“It’s just so important, simply because of the people that are in need,” said Poe. “We don’t know what’s going on in someone else’s house. Do they have clothes for their family? Do they have enough food to put on the table for the next day?”
Anyone can come to the clothing ministry, which also offers some food staples and other household necessities. There are no strings attached. No judgment.
“If you are in need of it, you come on out,” Poe invited. “And they can always call me, I’ll be there; I live just a few minutes from the church.”
The ministry operates on donations — not of money, but of clothes, shoes, food, bedding and even furniture. In fact, they don’t ask for money. Volunteer power keeps the doors open and items organized. If for any reason Poe can’t be there due to illness or other circumstances, she will make sure someone is. Sarah Brown and Alice Barnes are two of the longtime faithful.
“Ever since I retired, I enjoy helping,” said Barnes, folding clothes into a bag. “I love to do it. We have fun together, and it gives me something useful to do.”
Several of Poe’s relatives rally for the cause as well, helping with clothing or putting out fliers. Cousins Lynn Leonard, Alana Martin and Francine Rogers were on hand, as was Poe’s granddaughter, Jazmyn Douglas, 16. The Starkville High School student is one of the youth choir members that donated school supplies for the ministry’s Back to School Bash held a few days earlier. About 200 people showed up, Poe estimated.
“A lot of times as I go around town, I have people ask about the clothing, so you can tell it’s a big help,” Douglas said.
Whatever someone needs, the volunteers will try to provide. A missionary traveling back to Africa took five bags of flip flops with her the ministry was able to give, thanks to a sizable donation of the shoes from a large retailer.
Sometimes volunteers are faced with families suffering major blows, such as a woman recently who had to hurriedly vacate the place she lived because of a severe insect infestation. She had five children.
Poe told of one young man who walked to the building all the way from Highway 82 — a distance she put at about six miles. She gave him a ride back to the budget motel he was staying in. “Another young man rode his bike out here, for food and shoes,” she said.
Pulling back a worn plastic accordion door, Poe revealed a modest food pantry with limited provisions, including baby food. All donations of food and clothing in good condition are welcomed. The only items not accepted are socks and underwear, unless still new in the original packaging. Household goods such as bed linens are also appreciated.
As long as people are in need, Poe plans to keep at it.
“It’s just a passion I have. I love communicating with people; I love dealing with children,” she said, still with a joyful face. “It’s a blessing to me to be able to do it.”
Editor’s note: To donate items or for more information about the Rockhill United Methodist Church outreach, contact Donna Poe at 662-312-2935.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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