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Volunteers, donations drive center

Clothing, baby supplies provided by nonprofit

The first thing Bob Fisher tells you about The Mission Community Outreach Center is that it has no paid staff. The second thing he tells you is how many people the clothing bank on East Mission Avenue serves.

“We saw 180 people last Monday,” said Fisher, late last week while he was working with volunteers getting the store organized. “We keep track of people here, so you can come in every 60 days to get clothing and every 30 days to get infant supplies.”

Fisher, the nonprofit’s board president, said the center sees more and more people. In November, the center served 1,016 adults and 21 infants in just nine opening days.

“We give out a handful of diapers, some baby food, whatever it takes to tide parents over,” said Fisher. “But infant and baby supplies are very expensive, so we try to do the most good with what we have.”

The brainchild of Pastor Irvin Winship, the center opened after his death. It was volunteers Walt Shields, Duane Arkills and Ray Border who established the nonprofit and got it going in 1996.

“We are a Christian organization yet we are ecumenical,” said Fisher, explaining that the bylaws for the center are such that only three people from any one church can serve at the same time. “We include a lot of different churches in our work.”

More than 10,000 people have stopped by in 2009.

“We also get help from Kiwanis and from Rotary,” said Fisher, “but I have a feeling a lot of people don’t know we are here.”

The center’s operating budget is about $50,000 a year, which goes to rent, insurance, heating and power.

“Nobody here makes a dime,” said Lynda Key, a center volunteer and board member, “and we like it like that. But we can, of course, always use more volunteers.”

During open hours, volunteers enter clients’ information into the center’s computer system, which keeps track of visits and donations.

In the back, sacks of used clothing are waiting to be sorted and cleaned.

A note on the message board reads that volunteers shouldn’t put anything out that their own families wouldn’t wear.

“That really is the standard we go by,” said Fisher, while giving a tour of the center.

Any leftover clothing is donated to other clothing banks or to charities that may use it on overseas missions.

The center tries to stay away from furniture, but there is a small selection of housewares and small appliances, which is made available to families being re-housed by other charities.

A special donation of wedding dresses recently came in from a consignment shop, and on the floor sits a pile of strollers and car seats that came from Spokane International Airport.

“I guess those are car seats that were never picked up by passengers,” said Fisher.

Personal hygiene items such as shampoo, soap and toothbrushes are also part of the center’s supply.

“People on food stamps can’t buy hygiene items with the stamps,” said Fisher.

The center used to give out a “necessity bag” with shampoo, lotion and other personal hygiene items to its clients, but had to stop because of lack of funding.

“We are grateful for every donation of clothing or blankets, whatever people have to give,” said Fisher. “But like all other charities, any money we receive we can stretch a very long way.”