Valencia County Abundant Grace Free Store needs your help to help those who are less fortunate.
The store in Rio Communities can be a saving grace for those who need help.
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, the free store opens its
doors to anyone to come in and pick out donated items, including clothes, toys, books and many household items. As the name suggests, everything in the store is free.
“We want to help them, and their families and get them the things that they need,” said Kirk Benton, the co-executive director of the store.
Valencia County is in the name of the store but they will allow anyone from outside the county to shop as well.
“We’ve had people here from other countries that are visiting,” Benton said. “We’ve had people come from Texas or from Colorado that are here visiting relatives, come on in and shop with your family.”
The only thing people are asked to do is fill out an application, the store keeps track of how many items each person takes. There is a monthly limit on how many items people are allowed to take to keep it fair for the community.
The application asks for contact information and who in their family they will be shopping for. They do not ask for any IDs or proof of income. People are then issued a member identification card with their name and ID number.
In the store, people can go through and collect as many items as they are allowed monthly.
In just the last two years, the Valencia County Abundant Grace Free Store has helped almost 1,800 people. In the 13 years, the store has been around, they have helped almost 8,000 people.
Each week, the store’s volunteers welcome about 80 to 100 families in a short amount of time. It is only open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Saturday, with a short break at 11 a.m. so the volunteers can restock the store.
The store does not charge for anything, but they do assign values for everything they give away so they can quantify what they do for potential donors.
“… In January, we gave away almost $27,000 worth of things that people would have had to pay for otherwise,” Benton said.
From January to June of this year, $135,000 worth of items were given
away to the needy, and as of the end of 2021, the free store has given away more than $5.3 million in items.
When the store first opened up, they told the local fire departments if somebody in the community lost their home to a fire or a natural disaster, the store would open up any day to help them get whatever they need.
“Anything that we’ve got, we can help so we try to reach out to people that are really in a crisis-type situation,” says Benton.
Not only does the free store strive to help low-income and homeless families, but they also make sure people in the domestic violence shelter get any items they need.
Everyone from the executive director and the board to the people who tirelessly sift through the donations are volunteers. The free store is dependent on volunteers to keep the doors open but they also depend on donations to keep the lights on.
“We struggle with getting enough volunteers because we have a lot of people coming in,” says Sally Van Curen, the previous executive director of the free store.
The volunteers have a huge undertaking. They have to sort all the donations and clean the store to get ready for customers.
Loy Wisniewiski came to the store as a customer, then started volunteering and eventually became the co-executive director. She works multiple days during the week to sort donations and clean the store.
Rachel Meyer has been volunteering for four years as a board member. She also began as a customer and goes above and beyond by taking the donations home to sort and bring them back to the store.
The donations that are not up to the standard are sent to a charity in Dallas, Texas, called Charity Shoes and Clothing, LLC. The charity sends recycled shoes and clothing to people in third-world countries. In return for the clothes, the charity gives the free store a few cents per pound of clothes.
“Our mission is to help people in our community, and these folks aren’t in our community, but there’s still people that need help and we’ve got things that can help them and it makes us a little bit of money,” Benton said.
Valencia County Abundant Grace Free Store opened in November 2010 with funding from a grant from the Albuquerque district of the Methodist Church. The Methodist Church in Peralta was one of two churches chosen in New Mexico by the district to open one of two free stores, the other was in Albuquerque.
The Free Store is no longer a mission of the Methodist Church in Peralta, but they continue to support them along with various other churches. Many past and present board members of the free store and individuals in the community also contribute financially.
Originally, the free store was located at the Del Rio Plaza in Belen, but in 2011 a fire in the strip mall caused smoke and water damage to the store. The property owner decided they did not want to rebuild, and the store was forced to find a new location.
They settled on a location in Rio Communities, where the landlord cut the rent so they were able to afford it and never raised the rent. Unfortunately, the landlord passed away but his son, who lives in Texas, inherited it and still has not raised the rent.
The free store does do a 15-minute Christian devotional prior to opening each Saturday. They have ministers from around the area perform the devotionals.
People do not need to participate in the devotional to shop at the store but they make them available to those who would like to participate.
Donations of goods can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesdays and Saturdays. Monetary donations can be made through the store’s webpage — abundantgracefreestore.org — using a credit card or PayPal account.
Visit the Valencia County Abundant Grace Free Store at 203 Rio Communities Blvd., Rio Communities, or call them at 505-359-8406.
Jesse Jones lives in Albuquerque with his wife and son. Jesse graduated from of the University of New Mexico twice. This spring, he graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism and, in 2006, he received a bachelor’s degree in university studies with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a current fellow of the New Mexico Local News Fund.