About an hour before the school bell rings Wednesday mornings at Crothersville Community Schools, a hot breakfast is served in the basement of a church building a block away.
Directly behind that building, a thrift shop sells donated clothing and household items at low prices three days a week.
Just over from that shop, a food pantry is available twice a month to help those in need.
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Members of First Baptist Church of Crothersville take pride in offering these three services to people of all ages in the community.
“It’s a mission-oriented church because we do a lot of missions,” said Joyce Gillaspy, who has helped all 15 years the breakfast has been offered. “It’s a very mission-minded church, and this is a mission. This is a great mission.”
Jo Ann Webster, manager of the Clothes Cottage Thrift Store, said the congregation is happy to help.
“I think it’s just letting people know we’re there and we care and we just want to help,” she said. “The church is still going, and we have some really good people there. It’s just letting people know that there is help out there.”
Mary Jo Isenhower, director of the food pantry, said the services are successful because church members reach outside of their building.
“It’s not just our kids that are allowed at breakfast. It’s the community,” she said. “And you don’t have to be a (church) member to go to the Clothes Cottage or come in here. We service anybody. I think that’s good.”
Breakfast is served
Breakfast on Wednesday mornings during the school year was started by a former youth pastor at the church.
“He thought it would be a good outreach and to share Christ with the kids at school,” said Gillaspy, who has been a member of the church for 47 years.
It started with about three adults coming in at 5:30 a.m. to fix breakfast.
“They said they needed more help, so here I came,” Gillaspy said. “It was about the time I had worked for the school several years as an aide, so I left the school to help my daughter with her kids, and Kenny (Gillaspy, her husband) had an elderly uncle that I took care of.”
Now, the number of adult volunteers has doubled, and they begin cooking food at 6 a.m.
A short devotional begins at 7:30 a.m., followed by breakfast served at 7:40 a.m.
“The devotion is not very long, but it’s just enough to plant that seed that they need,” Gillaspy said.
Between 30 and 50 kids attend on a weekly basis, and being a church member is not required.
The menu consists of biscuits and gravy, sausage links, scrambled eggs, pancakes, chocolate milk, apple juice and grape juice. Gillaspy purchases the food and drinks through donations from church members.
“Some of (the children) never have anything period, and if they do have something, it’s cereal or a doughnut or something else, so they look forward to a big breakfast,” she said. “I like to see the smiles. That means a lot to me. Kids have always been my heart.”
Morgan Womack, 12, a sixth-grader at Crothersville, attends the breakfast on a regular basis.
“I think it’s good because some kids may not get the nutritious breakfast they need in the morning, and it’s just nice for them to stop here,” she said. “It also will help them learn more about Jesus and the love that He gives us.”
Morgan is a member of the church, and she said the congregation’s outreach is a plus.
“We’re just trying to make a difference in the world to get people to learn more about Jesus and to care for their community,” she said.
Going thrift shopping
The Clothes Cottage Thrift Store is in its third location in town.
In April 2009, it started in a home sold to the church by one of its members. About five years ago, the church constructed a building along East Main Street to house the store in the front and a food pantry in the back.
About two years ago, it moved into its current location at the corner of East Main and North Jackson streets.
Webster has volunteered at the store for more than four years.
“To tell you the truth, God told me to come,” she said. “I had volunteered briefly before, and then I quit. I just got this strong feeling, and so I was supposed to be here, so that’s when I came back.”
Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Donations, which are tax-exempt, are accepted during those hours and in an outdoor bin when the store is closed.
Webster said her daughter, Kathy Williams, is her biggest helper, and other church members volunteer to work shifts.
Clothing is the most popular item donated to the store. The items must be clean and have working zippers and buttons. There are separate rooms for children’s, men’s and women’s clothing. Shoes, hats and purses also are available for purchase.
Clothes that Webster can’t use are cut into rags and sold to generate money for the church’s youth to attend camp.
The store also has a large selection of household items, but Webster said home decor and small appliances and furniture are needed.
Anything the store doesn’t keep can be traded with Goodwill, which gives Webster vouchers to hand out to people in need so they can buy items at Goodwill.
“For every two bags or items that we give them, they give us a voucher,” she said. “Then we’re able to help people that way. We give them something, and they give us something.”
Webster said the store makes between $1,200 and $1,500 a month, and proceeds first go to the food pantry.
She said she tries to price everything as low as she can. Cash is the only accepted form of payment.
“We try to keep good stuff because anybody should be able to come in and get something good, whether they buy it or need it,” Webster said. “Due to lack of space, we just have to carry the best that we can.”
Mannequins modeling clothing throughout the store, decorations in each room and a radio playing Christian music all create a positive shopping experience, Webster said.
“I just want it to look good and smell good, and I always have the radio going,” she said. “If you have a good atmosphere, people feel good, and they shop.”
Providing food, basic needs
First Baptist Church took over operation of the food pantry from Crothersville United Methodist Chruch in 1998.
For years, the church received food and other commodities from the government, but it often wasn’t enough to serve the needs of the community.
So three years ago, it began working with Southeastern Indiana Baptist Association in New Albany. The pantry now receives about $800 a month from the Clothes Cottage Thrift Store proceeds — $600 is used to buy groceries to stock the shelves, and the rest is paid to SIBA for a monthly shipment of food and other items.
The pantry also receives donations from food drives by the Crothersville Post Office and Crothersville Library, and people occasionally donate items or money.
Hours are 6 to 7 p.m. every third Monday of the month and 8 to 9 a.m. every third Saturday of the month. If an emergency need arises, Isenhower said she sets up a time for people to come in.
After signing in, clients take a shopping cart around the pantry and select items from the shelves. The allotment of items is noted in each area of the pantry.
The back of the building is used for storage and contains a walk-in freezer.
Isenhower said the pantry averages 50 families each month. That number was higher until the beginning of this year, when she began requiring clients to live in Crothersville.
“If they are not from Crothersville, I will serve them one time and tell them pantries in their area because they might not know,” she said.
Isenhower said people from the church volunteer to help, and she also receives assistance from others in the community, including an occasional group from the school.
“It makes you feel good,” she said of volunteering to work at the pantry. “Who doesn’t want to feel good?”
First Baptist Church of Crothersville outreach
Breakfast for schoolchildren: 7:30 a.m. Wednesday mornings when school is in session in the basement of the former church building at the corner of East Howard and North Jackson streets
Clothes Cottage Thrift Store: Noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 400 E. Main St.; 812-793-2310 or search Clothes Cottage Thrift Store on Facebook
Food pantry: 6 to 7 p.m. every third Monday of the month and 8 to 9 a.m. every third Saturday of the month at 309 E. Main St.