One Sunday morning in Ham Lake, Minnesota, Elizabeth Estepp was at church when her pastor challenged everyone. “He asked us to ask ourselves, if our church disappeared would the community even miss us.” Estepp and some others realized that the answer was no. To change this, they decided to focus community outreach on bringing clothing to people. But how? Estepp slept, thought, and prayed until an idea formed. “I told my husband, we have a trailer full of junk parked outside. Let’s clean it out.” That was more than two years ago. Since then Friend2Friend, a mobile clothing ministry, has put hundreds of pounds of wear-able used clothing into the hands of people who can’t afford to buy their own.
For us, Estepp is a hero, helping to provide for people in the face of emergencies. For example, last year on May 22, Friend2Friend responded to the Minneapolis tornado, bringing clothing, toiletries, and water to people who were forced to flee their homes with little or nothing. During regular, non-disaster hours, volunteers are gathering, sorting, and hanging the clothes on racks that will later be transported to twenty church locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. On some nights, says Estepp, more than one hundred people show up. In no time, the racks are empty and ready for new donations. “We have seen so many people struggling for the first time in their lives.” Sometimes, she says, people have found clothes to use for job interviews. “They get jobs and then come back to help.”
Watching volunteers prepare donated clothing items for distribution serves as a reminder that helping others takes time and effort. Simply, it’s work. And Estepp recognizes this. “If we didn’t see the definite impact we wouldn’t be able to keep it going.” The impact extends from a homeless person needing a jacket to a widower finally feeling good enough about emptying his deceased wife’s closet. Or to a volunteer feeling worth-less until putting his trailer-pulling skills to work for a worth-full cause. Or to Estepp listening to a question and finding an answer because “this is what energizes me.” She’s making plans too: getting Friend2Friend’s food pantry on wheels.
Estepp and the other 2012 Heroes will be honored at the annual American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast on Thursday, May 24, at Target Field in Minneapolis. The public is invited to attend, help recognize local heroes, and support their local American Red Cross. Tickets and table sponsorships are available online at redcrossmn.org.
Story and photos by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross