In a typical year, thousands of Mecklenburg County residents visit Crisis Assistance Ministry to shop free-of-charge for essentials like clothing, shoes, linens, toiletries, and household goods. In 2019, over one million items were distributed with nearly 80 families shopping per day.
Then COVID arrived. To keep shoppers, staff, and volunteers safely distanced during their visits, families now shop by appointment and the number of shoppers per day has to be limited. Throughout the past year, the community has continued to provide much-needed items for our neighbors, while the Crisis Assistance team looked for new ways to get more of those goods into the hands of families with urgent needs.
Enter an innovative solution: the new Partner Agency Shopping Service. This service invites representatives of local nonprofits to shop by appointment on behalf of the individuals and families they serve. Available items include clothing, shoes, coats, school uniforms, kitchenware, dishes, and linens. These are offered in bulk and free-of-charge to nonprofits for distribution directly to low-income Mecklenburg County residents.
Some groups create their own socially distant “pop-up shop.” Others gather specific items to distribute through casework appointments or other routine contacts with the families served by their organization. Just before schools returned to in-person learning, one Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district created a one-stop-shop for school personnel to pick up coats and shoes for their students. In December, nearly 40 organizations selected pots, pans, and other kitchenware through a Stocking Kitchens with Hope partnership with Electrolux. The Charlotte Bilingual Preschool shopped for coats to distribute to their families.
Teams from Supportive Housing Communities have been able to provide clothing and household goods for those overcoming housing insecurity, and Care Ring’s Nurse Family Partnership picked up Baby Bundles of newborn clothing and other supplies for first-time mothers they coach. Working together with Roof Above, clothing, bedding, and even mattresses have been provided to former residents of “Tent City” as the community works to support their transition into permanent housing.
So far, 50,000+ items have been provided to partner organizations, including more than 1,000 blankets and more than 8,000 coats, this fiscal year.
To sign up, agencies who wish to shop must be 501(c)3 or governmental organizations and agree not to resell any items they select. Groups provide details of what items they are seeking when they schedule an appointment online. Then partner representatives make final selections during their shopping appointment.