Volunteer spotlight: Couple creates clothing ‘department store’ for shelter guests

Apr 3, 2023

The Salvation Army Northern Division is celebrating our volunteers throughout the month of April. Check our Facebook page and news feed regularly this month to read stories about the incredible people who donate their time to help The Salvation Army in Minnesota and North Dakota. Find volunteer opportunities near you.

Salvation Army volunteer Darlene Schaefer uses her background in clothing retail to dress shelter guests for success in St. Cloud, Minn.

With help from her husband, Ron, Darlene has transformed part of the St. Cloud Salvation Army into a veritable department store, complete with three large rooms of clothing for men, women and children. Guests at the St. Cloud Salvation Army’s 69-bed shelter and transitional housing facility are free to pick out all the clothes they need. (Read a touching story about a shelter guest at the St. Cloud Salvation Army.)

Darlene and Ron buy the clothes at local discount retailers and secondhand stores, cherry-picking only the very best pants, shirts, shoes, and other items. Darlene does most of the shopping.  

“I know quality, I know my labels, and I know when something’s a good buy,” said Darlene, who spent 15 years managing a small clothing store in Brainerd during the 1980s and 90s. 

After she buys the clothes, she brings them home for Ron to prepare for shelter guests.

“He’ll go downstairs and iron for hours, two or three days a week,” Darlene said. “Sometimes he irons all day.”

The couple’s clothing ministry began when they lived in Texas, where for five years they volunteered at an orphanage for traumatized children called Hill Country Youth Ranch. There, Darlene and Ron transformed a dormant building into a store filled with free clothing for the kids.  

“It was a beautiful, state-of-the-art store,” Darlene recalled. “The kids would call it Macy’s, or Old Navy, or Gap. I had been asking God to show me my purpose, and this was the answer.”

She and Ron approached the St. Cloud Salvation Army (pictured) about their clothing ministry when they moved to the area two years ago. The facility’s leaders, Majors Mike and Cindy Parker, loved the idea and gave Darlene one room to fill with clothes.  

The Parkers quickly realized that Ron and Darlene’s vision was too big for just one room. Before long, one room of clothing became three.

“Darlene and Ron have been an amazing blessing,” Major Mike Parker said. “People coming to our shelter often have limited clothing items with them, and now we are able to bless them because of the generous support of Darlene and Ron.”

Darlene is thrilled to use her time and talents for good, and she encourages others to do the same. 

“Everybody has different talents to share – clothing is mine,” she said. “Earlier in my life there were times when I needed support, and I was always totally amazed when people I didn’t even know helped me out of the goodness of their hearts. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

(Editor’s note: Ron chose not to be interviewed or photographed for this story but was happy to have Darlene represent them both.)

Please join The Salvation Army by giving a donation or signing up to volunteer. With your help, we can show families in need that there is Love Beyond their most difficult hardships. 

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