Giving it all away for free

FAIRMONT – There were lots of smiles Saturday morning as the Fairmont Evangelical Covenant Church held its Free-For-All. This is the third consecutive year the congregation has sponsored this community outreach, giving away a variety of merchandise, regardless of a person’s financial status.

“These items have all been purchased before,” said Debra Engman, chairman of the church’s evangelical committee, as she gestured to the many tables piled high with various merchandise. “Now we give it away for free. Just as Jesus purchased our salvation, and He gave that to us for free.”

Engman got the idea a few years ago and sent out a plea to the congregation.

“When you’re doing your spring cleaning, bring your things in,” she said.

A room in the church basement housed all the donated items that were later sorted. Shoes, purses, luggage, books, videos, household goods and clean usable clothing for every size and gender were neatly stacked on “every table that we had in this place,” Engman said.

“We’re up to 139 people with an hour and a half to go,” she said. “They just show up.”

A couple camping near Fairmont arrived. They had heard about the giveaway and wanted to check it out. They left wearing smiles and carrying a bag of items.

“How much does everything cost?” asked a woman entering the event.

“Nothing. It’s all free. Would you like a bag to put your things in?” was the response.

The woman accepted the bag, smiled and headed into the room to shop.

Avid readers found a treasure trove of books to browse. Purses were a big hit. Parents selected back-to-school clothing for their rapidly growing offspring. One woman scored luggage for a daughter headed to camp.

“I just got rid of the Christmas stuff,” said Carol Justice, a member of the evangelical committee. She quickly packed up several totes with holiday paraphernalia for a woman who planned to use the decorations on the outside of her home during the holidays.

There’s no registration required. The only “sign-up” area was a basket for prayer requests.

The event has grown over the years, with people arriving well before the doors opened.

“At 8 a.m., there were 40-some people waiting,” Engman said.

“We’re not income based,” Justice explained.

“Whoever wants to come, can come,” Engman said.

And it’s all free – except for the cost of a smile.