Julie Haight fulfills her passion for retail by volunteering in the thrift store.
Many of us are familiar with the adage made famous by the movie “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.” Such outcomes aren’t confined to the movies. Through faith, hope and determination — along with an astounding community effort — the Cashton Cupboard and Closet was built with this idea in mind, and is now at the forefront of serving families in their community.
Started in a closet space at Sacred Heart Catholic School in Cashton in 2009, the food pantry has outgrown several locations as the years passed. Instead of enduring rent payments, the small nonprofit took a risk and decided to construct their own building and forgo rent payments for mortgage payments. The store opened at their new location in 2015.
It was built, and “they did come!” Starting with five families in 2009, the food pantry and thrift store now provides assistance for more than 200 households each month. This amounts to serving hundreds of people every week.
In 2009, Virginia Von Ruden, a retired teacher, decided she wanted to do something to help those in need. She, Phillis Mann and Julie Haight are part of the core group that led the growth effort.
Von Ruden is quick to explain this endeavor was not taken on by just a handful of people: “The Cashton community has been wonderful. We couldn’t do this without them.”
The village of Cashton, surrounding community and ecumenical efforts make this a success. A local businessman donated land for the new location. Items are donated to sell at the thrift store. Others donate their time and talents, which allows the food pantry and thrift store to operate smoothly. Food banks such as Hunger Task Force, Second Harvest and Couleecap provide enough stock for the food pantry to be open six days a week. The list of people and organizations that contribute to the success of Cashton Cupboard and Closet is long.
Serving the needy is an ecumenical effort. The Board of Directors includes Father Michael Klos, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, Cashton, St. Augustine Parish of Hippo, Norwalk and Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish, St. Mary Ridge and Rev. Amanda Schultz, pastor of the three-point parish of Trinity Lutheran, Immanuel Lutheran and Bethany Lutheran. Other parishes playing an important role include, but are not limited to, the four-point Lutheran parishes at Brush Creek, Fish Creek Ridge, North Coon Prairie and Portland. This reaches out farther than the city limits. Ontario Community Church and volunteers from a variety of denominations also step up to serve those in need.
Cashton Cupboard and Closet relies entirely on volunteers. None of the positions, including the board, is paid. The store is bright, clean and very welcoming. People are accepted as they are and treated with respect.
“I enjoy seeing the smile on people’s faces. We get hugs, we get tears. At Christmas, we give our food pantry people 10 things to buy. One lady cried because she could get gifts for her grandkids,” comments Von Ruden. “The need is constant.”
Steve Larson has been volunteering for about eight years. Also a retired elementary teacher, Larson has always been a person who enjoys doing things for others. As with many volunteers, his faith is an important part of his life: “Most of the people who volunteer are likely involved in their church and community.” He gives credit to Cashton for being a very giving community.
“We’re a very ambitious and friendly bunch,” Barb Dickinson explains. “We are quite lucky to have the school, Boy Scouts and post office hold food drives.” These community efforts provide food in addition to the food banks. They pay it forward and donate to a nearby food pantry in Sparta, if they are able.
“It just feels good to help others. There is some sort of need in me to help people. I enjoy interacting with people,” says Dickinson. She is also active in her church.
In addition to the food pantry, the thrift store provides items at a very reasonable cost. Money raised from the thrift store pays the mortgage and provides the organization an opportunity to purchase items where the need is greater than the donations, such as personal care items.
There is so much hate and violence in the world that we can’t change. But we can change our community.”
As a member of the core group from 2009, Julie Haight continues to volunteer at the center. She especially enjoys sorting items for the thrift store. Sometimes, the boxes are stacked so high that she cannot get to the sorting counter.
People drop off donations, which are sorted daily.“I love doing this,” exclaims Haight. “My husband, Roger, does too. It’s amazing all of this came from our community.” Haight has always had a desire to make something like this available to those in need.
She and Roger are no strangers to helping others. They provided foster care for 40 years and in that time hosted 94 foster children and nine foreign exchange students.
Cashton Cupboard and Closet provides more than assistance to those in need. It provides hope and friendship to the people it serves. Patrons and volunteers are known by first names. It’s a social gathering for volunteers and gives them an opportunity to do something they enjoy. It joins a community and various religious denominations together for a common purpose.
Von Ruden knows that even with everything going on in the world today, making a difference can start right where you are.
“There is so much hate and violence in the world that we can’t change. But we can change our community.”
Story and Photography by Sharon Sliwka