Manor classroom converted into store for needy
In a second-floor classroom at the former Manor School, racks of clothing fill the space where desks were once lined up in neat rows, and shoes are spread across shelves where textbooks and school supplies were once stored.
For the past eight months, the old classroom — with walls appropriately decorated with T-shirts celebrating Pittsburgh's winning sports teams — has served as the Refuge Boutique, a free clothing store that members of the Refuge Church of Manor operate for families in need.
“The boutique exists to serve people who find themselves in a tight spot. It gives them an opportunity to shop in dignity ... at a place with racks of clothes,” said Melanie Marino of Manor, one of two coordinators of Refuge Boutique on Blaine Lane.
“My heart's desire is to help those who are less fortunate or just hit a hard patch in their lives and need a little help or a boost,” said Jeana Luther, the other coordinator.
The boutique opened after several months of discussion among women in the church and preparations to get the dream off the ground. Church pastor Dan Hertzler gave them his blessing, Luther said. “We had a vision and everyone brought in a different part,” Marino said. Volunteers from the church who were familiar with the retail experience helped to set up the boutique. Some helped with organizing the donations — several hundred pieces of clothing, from children's size 5 to adult XXXL, Marino said. Others helped to paint the walls and decorate the room, Marino said.
The volunteer-run store opened in May and has been open to the needy two days a month — the second Tuesday and fourth Saturday from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. It typically serves between three and 12 families each day it is open and has helped about 50 families in total with their clothing needs, Marino said.
In certain situations, people can make an appointment to shop if they are unable to make it during business hours, Marino said.
The women said they hope to be able to open a third day of the month, possibly in the evening.
To expand its collection, the boutique is accepting donations of more in-season clothing, excluding any used undergarments and socks, Marino said. Donations can be dropped off at the boutique and at Grace Wellness Center, 8320 Pennsylvania Ave., North Huntingdon, Marino said.
The boutique has a storage area for spring and summer clothes that will be displayed at the appropriate time.
The boutique operators want clothing that is clean and wearable and free of odors and stains. Church volunteers will inspect the donated clothing to ensure that it is in good condition.
“We wanted to serve the needy in a way that has some dignity behind it,” Marino said.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.