DELAWARE, Ohio — The Common Ground Free Store is a non-profit organization that has been providing essential items for over 16 years. The Free Store provides clothing, shoes, linens, household items, books, and toys to its customers, free of charge, and has no income requirements.
Recently, Mark Reed, the Development Director for the Common Ground Free Store, invited me on a visit to tour the current facility to learn more about the organization’s history, mission, and need for more space. The tour highlighted the non-profit organization’s efforts to provide essential items to families in need regardless of their situation, as well as the generosity and dedication of the local community.
What caught our attention
There are challenges that individuals face when they are released from incarceration after paying their debt to society, especially when they’re arrested one place that is nice and warm, and extradited to another place where it can get rather cold. One of the most pressing concerns is often the lack of basic necessities like clothing, particularly during the colder months. That’s why I was so inspired when I first heard about the Common Ground Free Store in Delaware, Ohio.
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The story that caught my attention about the Common Ground Free Store was about an inmate who was released from the Delaware County Jail in the dead of winter after serving his time with nothing but shorts and flip-flops. He was arrested in Florida, and brought up to Delaware, Ohio to serve time. Thanks to the efforts of the Common Ground Free Store, this man was able to get a winter coat and set of warm clothes to wear on his journey home.
That simple act of kindness left a lasting impression on me and underscored the critical role that organizations like the Common Ground Free Store play in supporting individuals who are trying to get back on their feet regardless of what life has thrown at them.
How it began
According to their website, “In 2006, a group of caring people from William Street United Methodist Church, after serving at a free store in Columbus and on a mission trip in Athens, Ohio, felt the call to start a free store and invited folks from more than ten other local churches to join in the effort. With faith and lots of prayer, Common Ground Free Store Ministries opened its doors in September 2006. Since then, it has grown consistently, with the work and support of many local churches, community groups, local schools, and individuals, providing material items and hot meals with dignity and hope for thousands of families in Delaware County and beyond. Today, a deeply committed group of individuals, local congregations, corporations, and foundations support Common Ground’s daily operations.”
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Let the tour begin!
As we started the tour in the donation room, I was introduced to Sharon Griner, the Executive Director of the organization. Sharon was busy sorting through the donations from the day before to see what could be used, and what should be discarded. The room was full of donated items, mostly clothing that a handful of volunteers were going through. Sharon mentioned that I just missed a visit from another charity called “Green Recycling,” which takes in any items that cannot be used and recycles them to keep them out of landfills. Mark stated this was the “perfect place to begin to show how we are out growing the space we are in.”
The reason for this growth is Common Ground Free Store im Delaware is such a giving community. This allows Common Ground Free Store to provide a range of essential items, including clothing, shoes, linens, household items, books, toys, coffee, and meals – all for free. The organization has no income requirements, does not ask any questions, and does not scrutinize anyone who comes in for assistance. It is open to anyone who needs support, regardless of their circumstances. The only eligibility requirement is to have a valid ID that matches your current mailing address. If your ID does not match your current address, you can bring in a bill or bank statement that shows your current address. The Common Ground Free Store serves anyone from Delaware and the surrounding counties, except for Franklin County, which already has many resources for their residents.
Making sure everyone is fed
One of the standout services of the Common Ground Free Store is the cafe area, where they serve over 100 meals per day (20,000 per year) to anyone who comes in, as well as offering “to-go” orders for anyone who request one. The cafe is staffed by two Common Ground Free Store employees and over 15 volunteers on a typical night.
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All of the food is prepared outside of the cafe and brought in to be kept warm and served to visitors. Meals have included everything from sausage and pancakes (yum) to taco bar, to baked potato bar. In addition to providing meals, the cafe also serves as the starting point for visitors to check in and begin their shopping experience.
Common Ground Free Store provides an opportunity to shop for a variety of items, ranging from clothing to household goods, completely free of charge. The store’s organization of the clothing sections is efficient for the small space. They are divided into categories by gender and age range. The women’s section includes a selection of maternity wear, while the men’s section offers a range of items tailored to men’s clothing sizes and styles. The store also has a section dedicated to teens, as well as a selection of clothing for children.
In addition to these year-round sections, the Common Ground Free Store also has a seasonal section, which changes based on the time of year. During the winter months, visitors can find hats and gloves to help keep them warm, while the spring sees the addition of prom dresses for local high school students. Come Halloween, the seasonal section transforms once again, offering an array of costumes for visitors to choose from. This particular section tends to be popular among Ohio Wesleyan University students, who appreciate the opportunity to get creative with their costume choices without having to spend any money.
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Providing for the little ones.
As we walked into the next room, the excitement in Mark’s voice was palpable. “We just did a reset at the store” he said, as he led me to the section that he was most excited about – the children’s section. “We finally have the space to bring in all the clothes for children, toddlers, and infants, and we even have a dedicated space for toys,” he said with a grin.
It was clear that Mark was passionate about providing customers with a wide range of products, and the new children’s section was just another step in that direction. As we looked around the section, I couldn’t help but notice the bright colors and playful designs on the clothes and toys. The section was filled with everything for a child, from pants, shirts, and onesies to the ever-important TOYS!
As we moved on from the children’s section, Mark showed me another area that was just as important to the store – the house goods section. “We receive a lot of donations for household items, so we needed a dedicated space to store them,” he explained. However, there was one catch – the items had to be small enough to fit on the shelves. “We had to limit the size of the items we accept, so we only take things that are smaller than a microwave,” he said.
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This limitation may seem restrictive, but it allows the store to make the most of their space and ensure that they can provide customers with a wide range of affordable items. As we looked around the section, I saw everything from kitchen utensils to bedding, all neatly organized on the shelves, which really goes fast.
Helping those with no home
The tour continued with Mark explaining that the store had a dedicated section for people who are unhoused, which included items like tents, ground pads, backpacks, and other essentials that someone without a home could use. “We want to be able to help as many people as possible.”
It was clear that the store was committed to serving the needs of the community, including those who are struggling with no place to live. The dedicated section for unhoused individuals was just one example of how the store was working to meet the needs of everyone in the community.
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As we walked through the section, I saw that the items were organized neatly and labeled clearly. It was clear that the store had put a lot of thought into providing a dignified shopping experience for those who may be struggling.
As the tour was ending, Mark was sharing information about the store’s funding and support. “We receive financial support from a variety of sources,” he said. “Over 400 entities provide financial support, including Source Point, the United Way, over 20 area churches, and many businesses.”
However, Mark was particularly excited about the support the store received from individuals in the community. “Over half of all our support comes from people sitting at their kitchen table and sending in money,” he said. “These are just individual households that want to help their neighbor.”
Mark could not emphasize enough how the community was just as committed to supporting the store. The fact that over half of the store’s financial support came from individuals in the community was a testament to the store’s impact and the generosity of the residents of Delaware, Ohio.
Growth of Giving Out-grows Store
As Mark and I concluded the visit and tour of the store, he shared with me some of the challenges that come with running a thrift store. “One of the greatest challenges in this area is that the generosity of the community can sometimes exceed the capacity of the store,” the catalyst for the need for a larger facility.
Currently housed in less than 3000 square feet, the store has limited space to serve its growing customer base. Many shoppers do not have transportation and rely on walking to get to the store. This is why the store is in urgent need of a new location that is at least 7000 square feet and located within a mile of the Center of Delaware.
According to Mark, the need for a larger space is not only about accommodating more shoppers. “We want to make sure we are serving the most vulnerable people and not leave them behind,” he said,
Common Ground Free Store by the Numbers:
- 1 location
- 5 days a week they are open
- 15 paid employees
- 48% increase in people helped in 2022 over 2021
- 193 East Central Ave, Delaware Ohio is the address.
- 918 families assisted
- 1,268 coats given away
- 1800 individuals that volunteer
- 2006 they year Common Ground Free Store Opened
- 3000 square feet facility they are operating in
- 4000 volunteer hours
- 5,633 toiletries provided
- 8,264 toys given away
- 9,277 shoppers in total helped
- 16,148 pairs of shoes and socks distributed
- 16,220 diapers passed out
- 19,306 meals provided
- 24,000 people in Delaware County that do not have enough money to make it comfortably.
- 56,048 clothing items given away
- 126,208 total items given away
Despite the challenges that come with running a free store, it was clear that the store was constantly evolving and adapting to meet the needs of their customers. The new children’s section and the cafe area were just fire examples of how the store was expanding its offerings. Mark’s passion as well as the rest of the staff and volunteers for the store and commitment to providing to those in Delaware, no matter their situation, was evident throughout our visit. It is clear that the store is an important part of Delaware that is growing as fast as our town.
To find out ways to donate, volunteer, shop or for more information in general about the Common Ground Free Store, you can visit their website at https://commongroundfreestore.org/