Pay It Forward: Over 1,000 people benefit from clothing giveaway

In its sixth year of blessing others, the Pay It Forward free clothing drive drew more than 1,000 people to Lynnville on Friday and Saturday, July 26-27. The annual event is an outreach of Heart of Worship church on the outskirts of Lynnville, but it wouldn’t be possible without the generous donations from so many in the community.

Kelli Johnson, one of six women who organized the event, shared how grateful she and the other organizers are for everyone who pitched in to help with Pay It Forward.

“All of us on the committee just want to say a huge thank you to the community,” Johnson said. “Without their donations, this event isn't possible. Whether it’s clothing, or baked goods, or time to help sort, it is all appreciated and very much needed. We would never be able to serve this many people without the help of the community.”

Set up for the event began on Wednesday, July 24.However, collecting items for the giveaway was on-going throughout the past year.

By the time Pay It Forward began on Friday night, Heart of Worship had been transformed into a shopping center with tables, tubs, shelves, and clothing racks full of clothing of all sizes and types. Pay It Forward offered something for everyone, including sizes for infants, children, women, and men, as well as maternity, outerwear, scrubs, swimsuits, and shoes.

Though the doors officially opened at 5 p.m. on Friday, people lined up hours before the event, ready to fill shopping bags with the items they needed. Within the first 15 minutes, 455 people had already filled bags with the free items.

Pay It Forward was open from 5-8 p.m. on Friday and 8 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday. Tables were restocked throughout the event, so no matter when people showed up, they had plenty to pick from. Church volunteers were on hand to help the “shoppers” find their items and to hold or entertain their children so they could focus on finding what they needed.

A highlight for some of the kids who came to Pay It Forward was being able to pick out a colorful wooden car to take home. Vern Hartgers makes the cars and has given out close to 5,000 cars to kids all over the world.

In addition to the clothing and toy cars given out, 200 backpacks with school supplies inside were also distributed, as well as two boxes of food from the food pantry to a couple of families in need.

Another part of Pay It Forward was the bake sale, which offered homemade goodies for sale for a good cause. This year’s bake sale benefited the family of Shelby Agan. Just over $1,000 was raised for Alison Agan and her three sons of Sully as they unexpectedly lost their 38-year-old husband and father in late April.

Most of the people who attended Pay It Forward were fairly local, coming from Lynnville, Sully, Grinnell, Newton, Montezuma, and New Sharon. However, some came from further away, like Oskaloosa and even a couple of families came from West Des Moines.

Johnson expressed her thanks to the area businesses who donated money for the school supplies: Co-Line Welding Inc., Casey's General Store, 1st State Bank of Lynnville and Sully, Walmart in Grinnell, and Deja Vu Consignments in Pella.

Organizers were also grateful for Shawn Van Wyk with Van Wyk Wood Builders. He lent a shed and trailer for use during the event, which helped streamline the set-up and shopping process.

Indeed, it was no small task to make sure all 1,000-plus people who came were taken care of from the start to the finish of their shopping experience. Johnson estimated up to 50 members of their church helped out in different ways over the weekend.

“We had a parking crew, people to sort and fold, guys helping to restock tables, and lots of people helped make baked goods for the bake sale,” Johnson said. “One of my favorite things to see throughout the event is all of our children that help. They snuggled babies, stocked tables, helped people shop, tore down boxes, you name it. It's awesome to see them get involved in the event and loving every minute of it.”

After the two-day clothing drive was finished, all the leftover clothes were loaded into a semi-trailer. A group from Heart of Worship plans to leave today, Aug. 1, to deliver the clothes to one of the church’s missionaries in Kentucky.

With all the clothing distributed from the 2019 Pay It Forward, community members are invited to join in on the collecting of clothes for next year’s event. They can drop off clothing at the church’s collection shed year-round. The clothes will be sorted and used at next year’s event, or put to a more immediate use if needed. Pay It Forward happens just once a year, but the ministry has started helping families and individuals throughout the year as well.

“We recently partnered with Discover Hope in Newton and are helping to provide some of their clients clothing throughout the year,” Johnson explained.

Johnson said she and the other Pay It Forward committee members – Heather James, Denise Staecker, Janise Gruver, Lori Newburg, and Kristi Brummel – usually start their planning for Pay It Forward in August, which means soon they will start the working on the 2020 event. No doubt, it will be a lot of work, but the volunteers find it so worth it to have a front-row seat of watching so many be blessed through the worthwhile ministry.

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