WAKEFIELD – As a northeast Nebraska group who provides low-cost items to all is celebrating their 13th year, the group also surpassed $100,000 in grant funding.
According to a release from Wakefield’s Nearly New, WNN started as a love of garage sales and helping others combined with thousands of volunteer hours has now resulted in $100,000 donated back into the Wakefield community.
Director Rhonda Lorenzen shared, “it’s been a great ride, there have been highs and lows, but knowing that we have been able to help so many along the way is very rewarding.”
Lorenzen, who enjoyed organizing garage sales and helping others, pitched her idea to a few others and went around town asking people to give us $5 towards startup costs. Then with about a year of planning, WNN, a 501 c3 non-profit, was organized by a group of 11 Wakefield area women which included Heidi Meyer, Eleanor Liekhus, Jenifer Pommer, Jenny Heimann, Elizabeth Carlson, Debbie Borg, Lisa Scott, Hillary Snyder, Amy Samuelson and Sheila Puls and spearheaded by Rhonda Lorenzen.
The original board members included two people from each of Wakefield’s five churches and three from other churches. The advisory board was made up of the Wakefield Ministerium and at the time included Charity Potter, Bill Chase, Terry Buethe, Jerome Cloninger and Ross Erickson. Samuelson and Liekhus have served continuously, Kim Barge, Angelina Fergosa and Debbie Borg round out the current board. Lorenzen has also served continuously since the inception.
Many have thought that she received compensation as director, but all are quick to reply, she is a volunteer also.
One challenge Lorenzen remembers well is February 1, 2009, congress enacted legislation that greatly reduced the ability to resell infant clothing and toys. It was meant to protect infants from getting sick from the toys they play with or the clothes they wore – but ended up greatly reducing the stores inventory of the most popular area of clothes – infant. When priced at .25 cents apiece, it’s hard to find a better bargain on gently used infant to size 18 children’s clothes.
Then came the twin tornados on June 16, 2014, that ripped through the area and the store became a hub for many who lost everything. Wakefield’s Nearly New had a young girl from Omaha who celebrated her birthday by raising donations and came to Wakefield with a rental truck full of gently used and brand-new items. A group from Fremont brought a semi load of supplies and a second semi load of furniture to us. WNN was able to help 28 out of the 31 families that were affected.
“It was truly remarkable to see the donations come in and then help get them out to those in need. The local coop gave us space for furniture, we offered special hours for the families to shop individually, it was definitely something I will never forget,” stated Lorenzen.
Over the first 10 years WNN generally gave out grants close to $10,000 a year. Their primary mission is to support youth based Christian activities and organizations. Grants have annually gone to CHIC (Covenant High in Christ, now UNITE), often the community led vacation bible school.
WNN also does Family Crisis Grants and has donated to the Wakefield Pool, Athletic boosters, Youth for Truth, American Legion, Prom, Quilts of Valor, Little Red Hen Theater, Library summer reading program and many more.
WNN also awards scholarships for Wakefield students that volunteer at least 20 hours during their high school career.
Then more thrift stores started opening in the area along with Facebook marketplace and WNN saw sales start to dip and there were questions as to whether there was still a need for WNN. But not wanting to quit, WNN started putting items on Facebook and tried a few special events. Having their Facebook page really helped out during the last year.
The store has been closed a lot because most of their volunteers are at high risk for contacting COVID. With all that has happened over the years, Lorenzen is quick to say, it’s been worth it.
“It has meant meeting people and talking about their day and hearing someone say ‘I never thought I would find one of these – it matches my grandmother’s set exactly.’”
It has meant running in to open the store late one night when someone’s grandchild arrived without their suitcase; and seeing the huge smile when they found just the right Christmas dress for the little girl and being there for a young man that had absolutely no money but needed clothes for an interview and telling him “it’s okay, there’s no charge”.
Being a place where people can donate gently used items that might otherwise end up in a landfill and existing with only volunteer help and then contributing back to the community over $100,000 is definitely an accomplishment.
The volunteer board meets generally once a year and at their recent meeting there was discussion that it would be nice to have others to pass the torch onto for the next 13+ years.
With two of the five board members serving on the board since the beginning with Lorenzen, and the other three also serving for an extended time, all would like to pass the torch.
Wakefield’s Nearly New is located at 303 Main Street.
With the possibility of new building ownership and other changes they all feel it’s a great time to bring on new volunteers and new board members. However, they are all quick to say they would like to have time to mentor in the transition of the new positions.
Director Lorenzen and the board want to extend a great BIG thank you to all who have shopped, donated, and volunteered and are hoping the store will continue to serve the community for many more years. The structure of the board is such that there must be at least three board members, preferably five, one from each church.
If anyone is interested in serving the community, helping others and giving grants in this way, contact board member Debbie Borg at 402-369-2291.