Catherine Houtz, chief clerk at the Stoddard County Gospel Mission, organizes clothing for customers in the facility's main shopping area. The sale of clothing and household items has greatly increased at the mission in recent months.
The Stoddard County Gospel Mission has increasing number of clients this winter, and the facility's director, Betty Lemons, said it's a direct result of the hard financial times. Lemons estimates the increase at about 20 percent in recent months.
Proceeds from the sale of clothing and household items at the Dexter mission support its food program, and Lemons said that program is also experiencing an increase in participants.
"It's a unique situation," Lemons said. "Our Christmas donations were down in 2008 and the Boy Scout food drive was somewhat down, but because more people are buying clothing from the mission, we are able to continue to support our food program.
"We serve about 1,200 families in the county every month, and those people come in at appointed times thoughout the month to pick up their groceries."
Those groceries are made available at no cost to county residents who qualify through income-based criteria, Lemons said.
Although the clothing items and household items sold at the mission are donated by the public, the food items come at a cost.
A government program called the Commodity Supplemental Food Program supplies commodities at no charge to the mission for the elderly in the area who qualify.
"It's a wonderful program," Lemons said, "but we're only allotted 166 boxes per month and we easily have about 500 who qualify for the program."
To accommodate the neediest of the needy, Lemons and her mission employees select those elderly residents with the lowest income, which begins at about $500 monthly, and provide them with the boxes of CSFP items. The remaining elderly still receive the regular commodity items made available on a monthly basis for income-based county residents.
Qualifying residents of Stoddard County also may receive free bedding and furniture items from the mission, but that is one area where mission employees are seeing a decrease in need this year.
"They are the types of items that typically are needed as families move from place to place, and this year, especially with the recent cold, I think that folks are just staying in place. Again, the economy plays into that. People just can't afford to move."
The mission operates weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon and then from 1 to 4 p.m. Families in need of help who have not applied may call the mission at 624-8979 to set up an appointment for submission of an application. Walk-ins are also accommodated.
"We encourage residents to donate items to the mission," Lemons notes. "This is what supports our food program and we appreciate every item we receive."