By: Judy Klein, Office of Communication at Michigan Conference
Berrien Springs, MI—Neighbor 2 Neighbor is a self-supporting ACS center, sustained by its own thrift store, run, and operated by four employees, and over 100 volunteers. Some volunteers are non-Adventist. This is significant, because according to Laura Meyer, director of Neighbor 2 Neighbor (N2N), volunteering is a ministry for the volunteers, and the volunteers are a ministry themselves.
Many of the volunteers who work at the center are dedicated to the work. They come in on weekends and holidays. Meyer reports that when she stopped by on 4th of July, there were at least ten volunteers hard at work. Many volunteers are widows, or are grieving, others are from the court system, serving mandatory community service. N2N finds a place for all of them, and mentors them. Often, we brush aside the opportunity to work with non-Adventist volunteers, but we need to refocus our mindset. Not only can you be a blessing to them, but non-Adventist volunteers can bless you as well!
Andrews University is just around the corner from N2N’s facility, and up to five social work students volunteer to handle client case files. Without all of the work of the volunteers and students, N2N’s work would be impossible.
There’s lots of work to do. Food must be bought for the clients, and grants for food and supplies must be written, and there’s the thrift store too! Thousands of pounds of donations are received, sorted, tagged, priced, put out to sell, and then taken back if unsold after two months. Each month’s merchandise is tagged with a different color so staff and volunteers can keep track of inventory. Meyer and her volunteers have a recycling system for clothes that cannot be used.
The thrift store is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm. Client services are open on the same days from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.
When clients arrive at N2N, they are greeted by a smiling receptionist, and then whisked into an assessment room, where their needs are discussed with a volunteer or social worker. They are then given according to their needs. Meyer allows them to choose food that they need, so that they will use it. Meyers uses the example of rice and beans, an ethnic food that some people do not know how to cook without, but a food that others do not know how to cook in the least! Each client also gets two vouchers for the thrift store, which is good for two pieces of furniture, and fifteen dollars’ worth of towels and linens. The client is also given a gift certificate worth thirty dollars for each member of their family. This can be used on clothing, shoes, belts, and purses, and can be received every three months.
This means that children can be outfitted for school, and for the seasonal changes. In addition, in the winter, they may allot a little more money to each client, as coats are more expensive.
Some university students struggle to make ends meet, and Neighbor 2 Neighbor helps students too! If students need a desk, lamp, and a desk chair, they can receive these items for free. A lot of seminary students and international students are very poor, and they are also eligible for food and clothes.
Due to N2N’s well-known location, Feeding America has partnered with Neighbor 2 Neighbor to have food drives in the parking lot. There have been three since the pandemic in 2020, and Meyer reports that there will be more.
N2N has been blessed with a wonderful facility, and Meyer is making good use of it. “We have space,” she says, and Meyer and her team will let anyone from the community use that space for anything that is appropriate. It takes time and work to plan, which makes it difficult for the team to utilize the space as they could: “Planning is a lot of work,” says Meyer, “but we can use the space!” Planning takes more time than they have, but partnering with local groups means that the space can be used as a blessing to the community.
The space is often utilized for classes such as drug recovery programs, financial literacy, or counseling. A quilting group even uses the space. Another benefit is that some community members are intimidated to go onto campus for counseling, but because N2N is such a well-known community help, it is less intimidating, and community members are more willing to come into facility for programs. Chelli Ringstaff, ACS director, comments that N2N has “cultivated a safe place” for the community.
At the moment, the facility is under construction. There will be a second room for community meetings, which will be soundproof, for confidential counseling.
The construction began in 2020, with the new thrift store. N2N was in a rough place. They had used all of their income, and depleted their reserves, but they still needed a new parking lot, as well as the rest of the facility being renovated.
Meyer and her team were convicted to step out in faith and go ahead with renovations. “It was a big step of faith,” says Meyer, “but if we didn’t step out ahead, it wouldn’t be faith. If we had it all worked out, it wouldn’t be faith.”
They stepped out in faith, and the Lord blessed. The parking lot was provided by a large donation from a member, and money poured in from the surrounding churches. The Lord showed Meyers and her team that He was in control, and that they had nothing to fear for the future.