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Open Hands reaches out to help Ligonier community

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 3:06 p.m.
Bill Pribisco | for the Ligonier Echo
Jen Stiffler of Stahlstown,a volunteer at the Cook Township Community Center, looks at a sweater in the racks of clothing at the Open Hands Boutique. This photo was taken on 2/8/2014 at the Cook Twp community center by Bill Pribisco for the Ligonier Echo
Bill Pribisco | for the Ligonier Echo
Dee Pritts and her grandson, Colton Sanders, 5, of Stahlstown look the table of toys at the Cook Township Community Center Saturday. This photo was taken on 2/8/2014 at the Cook Twp Community Center by Bill Pribisco for the Ligonier Echo

In 1997, area churches came together to form Open Hands Ministries to aid low-income families.

Nearly 15 years later, their mission continues with a community boutique run entirely by volunteers and projects to repair homes and to nurture newborn infants.

The Open Hands Boutique at the Cook Township Community Center is a used clothing and furniture store that provides affordable necessities and uses the proceeds to further benefit the community.

“God has been good to us, and we're just giving back,” said Peggy Telford, 67, of Mansville, the president of Open Hands Ministries.

In 1997, pastors Audrey and David Bell recognized the Stahlstown community had low-income residents who could use a hand, Telford said. The pastors approached Calvary United Methodist Church, Heritage United Methodist Church, and New Florence, Rector, Lebanon, Waterford, Stahlstown, Pleasant Grove and Zion United Methodist churches about giving back to the community. (New Florence United Methodist Church has since left the organization).

The group formed a board, enlisted volunteers and eventually became a nonprofit organization.

Within a year, they opened the boutique by leasing space from the community center. The boutique operates from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Volunteers put in shifts of about two to three hours, organizing the many donations from people throughout Westmoreland County and churches of all denominations, Telford said.

In addition to clothing and furniture, the shop offers toys and housewares. Its prices range from 25 cents to just a few dollars, Telford said.

Longtime volunteer Della Hauger, 80, of Ligonier makes the volunteer schedule. “We just try to help out people that need help,” she said.

The boutique is a service to people looking to get rid of clothes and furnishings they have outgrown, as well as a service to people in need of such items, said volunteer Joan Keener, 61, of Stahlstown.

“It's a win-win,” she said.

Keener, who has volunteered for six years, said a wide selection of items fills both rooms of the shop.

“We get name brands and off-brands,” she said. “Sometimes we get items with tags still on them.”

During the second full week of each month, the boutique holds a $1-a-bag sale. Shoppers can fill a grocery-store bag with clothing for $1 or a 13-gallon garbage bag for $3, Telford said.

In the furniture and housewares room, shoppers can fill a cardboard box for $1.

“We have very, very reasonable prices,” Telford said.

Proceeds from the boutique's sales help pay the rent and help to fuel the ministry's community service projects, which extend throughout the county.

Its layette program provides low-income, new mothers with baby blankets and clothing at Excela Health Westmoreland in Greensburg. So far, the program has provided for 5,350 newborns.

Volunteers in its People Under Mission People, or PUMP program, do home repairs, along with renovations to make residences more accessible, for the elderly and individuals with physical and mental challenges.

“We had one woman who had fallen through her trailer floor, so we helped put in a new floor for her,” Telford said.

Jen Stiffler, 50, of Stahlstown has been involved with Open Hands Ministries and Boutique for about six years, working at the boutique and serving as secretary-treasurer of the board.

“I get such great satisfaction from being able to make a difference, being a part of such a worthwhile organization,” she said.

“Many people comment that this is very helpful to them when other resources available to them aren't quite as helpful. ... The volunteers are very committed to it. The community so needs it that they continue to support it.”

Nicole Chynoweth is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2862 or