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Economy drives rising demand at Richville Clothing Mission

With a plunging national economy, the struggle many Minnesotans face to adequately feed, clothe, and house their family continues to increase.

East Otter Tail residents have been hit hard by the rising gas and grocery prices. For some it means carpooling and cutting back on non-necessity items. For others, it translates into an empty table with hungry mouths to feed.

It was his desire to provide practical assistance to his fellow community members that first motivated Pastor Rod Tornquist to start brainstorming ways to open a local mission to help people with one of the necessities--adequate clothing.

In 2001, just a year after he started thinking about the possibility of such a project, the Richville Clothing Mission opened its doors for the public. All of the clothing, bedding, and household items at the mission are distributed free of charge.

The mission, which is located in the basement of the United Methodist Church in Richville, has grown exponentially over the past seven years. It now serves a five-county area, including Otter Tail, Becker, Wadena, Wilkin, and Todd counties.

Tornquist is pleased to add that the endeavor has gone far beyond what he originally envisioned it to be. "We took in about 10 tons of clothing last year," he said.

The overwhelming outreach that the mission has generated caught the attention of Bremer banks. When Terry Sullivan, a volunteer and board member with the Richville Clothing Mission, wrote a grant request, the Otto Bremer Foundation responded with a $17,833 check.

This money will help the mission complete their construction project, which includes upgrading the electricity, installing appropriate flooring, adding rolling racks and wire display racks, and finishing off the basement of the United Methodist Church to make it useable for the mission.

As a part of the grant process, a Bremer representative from St. Paul visited the clothing mission to interview some of the volunteers. On April 15, the mission officially received the grant money from the Otto Bremer Foundation.

"On behalf of the foundation and the Bremer banks, we are happy that we can participate in this community and help support ministries like this," said Neil Wrangham, branch manager of Bremer bank in Perham.

With construction scheduled for completion in June, the clothing mission will finally be able to utilize all of the space in the Methodist Church basement. The construction project allowed the mission to double their clothing distribution center area.

Originally, the mission started in an 8 x 12 foot shed. It was then moved into a 10 x 34 foot trailer, and finally to its present location at the church.

Use of the mission, even during the past year, took an unprecedented hike. The mission went from serving 1,042 people in 2006 to serving 1,565 people in 2007. In 2006, there were 1,579 bags of clothing distributed, rising to 2,309 bags in 2007.

In the program statement of the Richville Clothing Mission's grant application, a comparison is listed between the Minnesota average income of $57,779 and the average Otter Tail County income of $43,410. The application continues on to explain the county's high level of need, stating that, "15.5 percent of Otter Tail County residents have an average income of less than $15,000, with the national average at 13.64 percent."

Although the county's need for clothing continues to increase, volunteers at the mission are pleased to note that the willingness people have to donate items has grown as well. "People are holding clothing for us because they have so much to give us," said Winnie Huwe, a member of the Richville Clothing Board.

Volunteers have also stepped up to make the clothing mission a success. There are currently ten volunteers at the mission, coming from a variety of area churches. "We have Lutherans, Catholics, and Baptists," remarked Huwe.

With a variety of community members and churches joining together, the mission is certainly a collaborative effort. One example of this joint effort is Calvary Lutheran Church's community outreach program, which works with the Richville Clothing Mission.

When the Perham outreach program is given furniture, they notify the Richville mission and keep the furniture for them. The Richville Clothing Mission volunteers will then tell visitors what is available and help connect people with furniture needs to the Calvary program. People frequenting the Richville mission are also referred to the Perham Community Food Shelf for grocery assistance.

"You feel so good when you can help someone," Huwe said. "Some people come with nothing more than the clothes on their backs."

Hours of operation for the Richville Clothing Mission are Tuesdays, from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. and Wednesdays, from 6:30 - 8:00 p.m.

About Bremer Financial Corporation:

Bremer Financial Corporation is a privately-held regional financial services company with $7.5 billion in assets, jointly-owned by its employees and the Otto Bremer Foundation. This unique ownership structure is the only one of its kind in the nation.

Founded in 1943 by Otto Bremer, the company is headquartered in St. Paul, and provides a comprehensive range of banking, investment, trust, and insurance services to more than 100 locations in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Company profits are distributed in the form of charitable grants by the Otto Bremer Foundation to communities served by Bremer. In 2007, more than $30 million in charitable donations were given across the Bremer footprint and employees donated nearly 92,900 volunteer hours to their communities.

Last year, in the Fargo charter that the Perham Bremer bank is a part of, the Otto Bremer Foundation awarded grants totaling $5,694,888 to local nonprofits.