The New Store

A volunteer helped a child pick up shoes at The New Store on Saturday.

MANSFIELD ─ The children were excited about picking up clothes and shoes themselves on Saturday. They got plenty to choose from at The New Store.

It was one of the Dressing Days, in which children with financial need can go to the store and shop with a volunteer ─ for free. They looked for shoes in their favorite colors. Some girls spent time at the jewelry table, checking rings and necklaces.

They all left with a big bag containing pants, shirts or school uniforms, shoes, underwear, accessories and a hygiene bag. They also got a book and a McDonald’s gift card.  

The New Store, which opened in 2007, is one of Richland County Children’s Auxiliary’s programs. Kelly Andress, assistant director for the Auxiliary, said the store served 45 children from preschool to eighth grade on Saturday. The number was about half of what the store had in previous years. All children came to the store with a referral from their schools.

Andress said The New Store wants to offer the children a unique experience of picking up clothes that will make them feel good and happy. Volunteers shop and stock sections for shoes, boy’s clothes, girl’s clothes, campus wear and pajamas at the store. They also help the “customers” choose clothes in the right sizes while the parents or guardians wait at the lobby.

Children are not allowed to try on clothes this school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Masks are required as well. The last two dressing days for this year are on March 25 and April 21.

Sandi Freeman said she has volunteered at the New Store for more than three years. Her first dressing day was an eye-opener.

“Just understand how much need there is in the community and how much we're able to fulfill … it's very satisfying, so I just keep coming back,” she said.

The girls were particularly thrilled to try on clothes when it was still allowed.

“They put the clothes on and they're so excited. They'll just open the curtain and say, ‘Oh, look at those!’” Freeman said.

Boys, on the other hand, needed to be convinced.

“They're either in a big hurry to get it over with, or they're just in there plodding along, trying to do what needs to be done so they can get out of here,” Freeman said.

Andress said The New Store surprisingly has seen fewer referrals from schools this year. Typically, it serves more than 1,000 children, who can come to the store twice each year.

Reasons for the declining numbers remains unknown, Andress said. She could not imagine the need is completely gone with the impact on the economy.   

“That's why we've been trying to find ways to still meet the needs in the community by working with our other partners in the area,” she said.

The New Store has worked with the Crossroads City Center to distribute clothes to the needed families. At the same time, it is working on expanding its Youse Athletic Program.

Andress said the program has been for Kinship families, aiming at helping children participate in extracurricular activities such as sports or music lessons. The goal is to roll out the program to more schools in Richland County.

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