Thanksgiving Day Free Store

The Thanksgiving Day Free Store will be open for business for the 20th time this November distributing winter coats and other necessities to individuals and families in need. As the name implies, everything in the store is free. The Thanksgiving Day Free Store is held at St. Stephen’s School building on Clinton Avenue in Minneapolis, and is only open on Thanksgiving Day. In 2012, more than 700 people were served. The guests were mostly men, but there were more than 100 women and more than 70 children. Many were homeless.

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060 resizedThis yearly event started in 1995 by Jo and Don Senander as an outreach of Union Congregational United Church of Christ in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Their tireless efforts have sustained the project for the past two decades with the assistance of hundreds of other individuals. Although it began within the church, it now draws many, many volunteers from outside the Union congregation.

The event was organized to increase the dignity of individuals and families in need by distributing, free of charge, winter clothing and other basic personal items including winter coats, hats, boots, sweatshirts, socks, underwear, and personal care products.

There are many ways that you can become involved in this important mission. Donations of new or gently used winter coats are especially needed. Many more coats are needed before this year’s event. Donations of hats, gloves, sweaters, belts, backpacks, and duffel bags are also needed. Other items for the event must be purchased such as thermal underwear, sweatpants, socks, personal care products, and backpacks and school supplies for children. Cash donations are needed to make these purchases possible.

In recent years, another avenue for involvement has emerged as knitters at Union UCC have organized to knit winter hats for the free store. These volunteers have continued to challenge themselves and now provide about half of the hats that are given to guests.

104 resizedIn the weeks before Thanksgiving, a tremendous number of volunteers are needed. Coats and other items must be moved from off-site storage locations to Union church to be sorted. The week before Thanksgiving, the church is bursting as volunteers spend days sorting items and organizing everything by size. A night or two before Thanksgiving, everything has to be moved to St. Stephen’s. This effort takes two large trucks, a number of vans and dozens of volunteers. Setting up and running the store starts early on Thanksgiving morning and also requires dozens of volunteers. There is no better way to spend Thanksgiving than giving others more to be thankful for and reminding yourself of your own blessings.

You will find many details about the Thanksgiving Day Free Store including how you can donate and volunteer at

…from Kathy Hunter, member of Union Congregational UCC, St. Louis Park

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