CLC Free Store combines prayer with action

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by Dennis Dalman

Responses from grateful people in this time of need range from heart-warming to heart-breaking, according to Jess Lundsetter, who founded a food help program in March along with four other members of Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell.

Soon, they learned that so many people in the area are feeling afraid, anxious, separated, lonely and utterly uncertain as to what the future will bring as far as the spread of the virus disease and the devastated economy.

After the Sartell group helped people obtain food items and hygienic supplies, people email or wrote notes of thanks.

“So good to know somebody who cares,” said one.

“Thank you; we don’t feel so alone now,” said another.

The name of the food program is CLC (Celebration Lutheran Church) Free Food Store. Other members, so far anyway, are Lundsetter’s husband, Dustin Tomhave; Maria Crane, Taryn Gentile and Tyler Malotky.

All of them realize there are enormous needs by people in the area, but the group is determined to help out as best they can, even in smaller ways. Although the church building is closed, the group accepts donations of nonperishable food items that are inventoried, then stored in the church’s lobby, which Lundsetter dubs a makeshift pantry. Many of the items are placed in big covered plastic totes on a long card table on the corner of the church property at 15th Street and 10th Avenue just off Pinecone Road N. Anybody is welcome to take needed items and, hopefully if possible, add items to the totes.

In addition, members of the group have also made doorstop deliveries to homes when they receive requests.

Because the church is closed temporarily for its members, they and other congregants have been communicating via online interactive video with one another and with the church’s pastor, Jeff Sackett. It was during those virtual meetings and brainstorming that the idea for a food relief program came up. They put out a call for donations to start the CLC Free Community Store and were stunned by the generous responses.

“And the donations keep coming in,” said Lundsetter. “People are more than willing to share at a time like this. The response has been overwhelming.”

At one point, the received so many donations they decided to share them with other organizations that help people in need: Place of Hope, Terebinth Refuge, Anna Marie’s Alliance, the Pregnancy Resource Center.

“We brought trunk-loads of stuff to them,” said Lundsetter.

One request they received was from a 72-year-old woman in St. Cloud who had no idea how or where she could get some hand sanitizer. Lundsetter and her husband took hand sanitizer to the woman.

“I think of her now as my adopted grandmother,” said Lundsetter. “My own grandmother lives in Fergus Falls and because of social distancing, I cannot visit her. This woman in St. Cloud likes to do (jigsaw) puzzles so we brought her some of them. She had a bout with cancer, which puts her at high risk for the virus. This Sunday, I’m going to bake a ham, and we’ll bring her a ham dinner. She is such a day-brightener.”

Lundsetter has a degree in marriage and family therapy, although she is currently not working in order to be a stay-at-home mom to Ella, a high-school student; and 3-year-old Miles. Her husband, Dustin, is a design engineer for Ichor Systems in Sauk Rapids.

“We now worship online because the church is closed,” said Lundsetter. “So we can pray, but this program we started is a way to combine prayer with action in the power of God’s love.”

The help program is for anyone at all in Sartell and in the greater St. Cloud area.

“So many stores are out of so many things,” she said. “A lot of empty shelves. There are older people who are hurting because of health issues. There are moms at home with little ones who cannot go to stores to get what they need. There are so many people hurting and in need.”

Donations are always welcome at the CLC Free Community Store: nonperishable food items and personal hygiene products that include soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and baby diapers. The store is also seeking more volunteers.

Checks to buy more items are also welcome. They can be sent to CLC Free Community Store; in care of Pastor Jeff Sackett; 1500 Pinecone Road N.; Sartell, MN 56377.

For more information, call Jess Lundsetter at 320-760-4918.

contributed photo
Jess Lundsetter and her husband, Dustin Tomhave, are co-coordinators of the Celebration Lutheran Church Free Community Store, which they helped found in March as a way to help people in need.

contributed photo
Jess Lundsetter and her son, 3-year-old Miles, take a break with donated food items in the lobby of Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell.

Author: Dennis Dalman

Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.

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