- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

PLANKINTON, S.D. (AP) - A group of women opened Blessings Repeated, a thrift store, on Plankinton’s Main Street, with a single goal in mind: Put their faith to work.

In turn, they have reaped the benefits of watching their efforts help countless people in need, The Daily Republic (http://bit.ly/1RGj5S3 ) reported.

“This is probably the coolest thing I have ever been a part of. It’s such a testimony to when you put your faith in God, and just let Him take control, that He just continues to provide everything we’ve needed,” Blessings Repeated board of directors member Keara Hohn said. “You can’t even really put into words what it feels like or means to be a part of something like this.”

The store accepts donations of all shapes, sizes and types, and sells the items at reduced prices, operating like a Goodwill store. The main difference: Blessings Repeated is run completely by volunteers, and all of the money raised in sales_aside from what is used to pay for operating costs of the building_is used to buy supplies for the Backpack Blessings program. Backpack Blessings provides meals and snacks to approximately 40 kids in kindergarten through sixth grade in the Plankinton School District whose families may need extra help providing meals over weekends, when kids are not provided lunchtime meals by the school. The backpacks are distributed each Friday.

In a building, which at one time housed government offices, now revamped with fresh paint and filled wall-to-wall with clothes, toys and household items, sits Blessings Repeated. The store opened its doors on Dec. 5 and is open twice-weekly_Wednesdays and Saturdays. The store is run by a group of five board members, none of which have experience in owning or running a business. But, what they lack in experience, they make up for in ambition and faith.

“We’re just kind of winging it,” Lindsey Weich, a board member, said. Hohn added, “The backpack program has its own space in the store, which is nice, and we’ve been able to buy more food and pack more. That was the initial need and it just blossomed into so much more than we could have ever dreamed of or hoped for.”

Support from the community in the store’s first few months of operation has been vital to its “amazing” success, Hohn said. She said it has also led to some “good problems to have.”

“One of the hardest things from a board member standpoint is scheduling,” Hohn said. “You don’t just have a schedule where you put people down, you have to ask people when they’re available. But most of the time, people are really good about stepping up or helping us find someone if they can’t make it. Sometimes, it’s almost like we have too many people. But you can’t really ever have too much help, we just get to spread the wealth a little more.”

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Backpack Blessings is in its third year in the Plankinton School District, and began under the advisement of many of the same women who now run Blessings Repeated_aptly named as an extension of the backpack program.

There are no qualifications to receive one of the weekly backpacks filled with food and snacks.

The goal of the program, however, is to provide for families who might struggle to feed their children over the weekends.

Packets are sent out at the beginning of the school year, and anyone who wants to sign up, can.

“We don’t make them verify their financial standing or anything,” Hohn said. “We don’t really even know who’s in the program_only one person has that information. We just go by locker numbers when we drop stuff off, so it’s very discreet.”

Weich said there is an obvious need for the program, illustrated by the program’s steady growth in the years it has been operating. She said in the first year, Backpack Blessings served approximately 25 students, and has since nearly doubled its outreach.

As the community’s need has grown, so has the workload for the volunteers.

Originally, the backpacks were packed in the Methodist church in Plankinton.

“We were stealing a lot of space that could have been used for other things,” Hohn said.

Additionally, through the Backpack Blessings program, it was difficult for the group to distribute clothing and other items, because they were unsure what size each recipient would need.

So, the group of nondenominational women who met as part of a Bible study group began looking for a building to call home. In the same conversation arose the idea for the thrift store to provide reduced-priced clothing and items for people in need, stocked solely through donations from area residents.

“There’s a lot of people that wanted to help, but didn’t know of a way to get to families that needed help. They didn’t know where to take things for the families so they’d know it would get to them,” Weich said. “And there are a lot of families that could afford a small amount but didn’t want handouts, and also couldn’t necessarily afford to go pay certain prices for clothing and household items.”

Once the building was secured, the group began asking for donations to stock the shelves.

“The community stepped up. We have more donations than we know what to do with,” Weich said.

“We have enough stuff to stock a second building, and there’s some really cute clothes in there,” Hohn added.

As Blessings Repeated begins to make its home in Plankinton, the board is looking toward the future.

“Hopefully, when we get making a little bit more, we want to start doing some community projects,” Weich said. “The big dream: We get a new pool in town or something, but that’s a really big dream.”

For now, the group is satisfied with just making a difference in their small-town community, and committing to servant faith_something they feel called to do.

“As Christians, you have to step up to the plate and live out what you believe,” Hohn said. “If we’re going to be in this, we’re going to be in this all the way, and here we are, so we’re going to give it our all.”

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Information from: The Daily Republic, http://www.mitchellrepublic.com

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