The contest invited all to be inspired by the legacy of Mr. Fred Rogers and nominate neighbors that exemplify kindness, listening and learning. They wanted to know how and why your nominee is an exceptional neighbor in your community and responses were due by March 14, 2019 with the winners being announced at their Indie Lens Pop-Up event in early April with five free screenings of films produced by independent filmmakers from across the country that address some of the most important issues of our time, including Native history and culture, access to healthcare, early childhood education, and community organizing and policing. At the heart of all of these films lies a powerful, unifying inquiry: What does it mean to be a neighbor?
Here’s an example of Kris King’s nominee Community Closet:
The nonprofit Community Closet stores in Livingston are more than good neighbors, they are great neighbors. Their mission to offer low-priced goods and donate proceeds back to the community is just the beginning of the many ways their trio of stores exemplify being great neighbors. Good neighbors interact with their direct neighbors but great neighbors impact everyone – from the most vulnerable to those with abundant resources – in the community.
I have worked with and for nonprofits for over three decades and am always inspired by the important work charitable organizations do for targeted sectors of the population, but I have never encountered an organization that benefits all sectors of a county-wide population the way Community Closet does.
Between Community Closet’s monthly donation jars, gift cards to schools and nonprofits for free store merchandise, community information outreach, and quarterly grants, they support the breadth of Park County charities; from my favorite community activity, Halloween on Yellowstone Street, to the Senior Center, arts organizations, sports activities, to our Sister City exchanges with Naganohara, Japan. Their grant giving has totaled almost half a million dollars in a town of only 7,000 and they offer year-round support our most vulnerable neighbors through Friends of the Community (a one-woman crisis response effort) and Aspen (Abuse Support Prevention Education Network).
But a great neighbor does more than just respond to those asking for help, they foresee potential needs and remove barriers like cost. For instance, when Federal employees were recently furloughed, Community Closet offered free merchandise to be paid for in the future at furloughed employee’s discretion, during winter free coats are offered to all at their Alley Annex, when there is a product recall or safety issue the Community Closet pays to publicize the issue, and they’re aware of specific needs and will set aside and donate things like drum kits for the high school band, Legos for LINKS afterschool programs' participants in MSU’s Lego League contest, costumes for Bowl for Kids Sake and much, much more.
When I stop by their stores, which are strategically open every day so folks always have a safe place to go, I enjoy the social benefits of a no-cost, stigma-free warm and welcoming environment alongside both friends and people whose paths I would not normally cross. I admire the contributions of senior volunteers, delight in watching children choose their free books, get to make budget-savvy shopping choices, and make a big impact on my taxes and clutter by donating gently used items from my home. Their annually decorated bathrooms are a welcome, and often entertaining, respite and their planned and spontaneous parties are both fun and casual. On any given day I can name which parts of my ensemble are scores from one of their three stores and every room of my house features treasures I thrifted there that I am happy to have kept out of the landfill.
One of Community Closet’s biggest impacts in my life and community is the opportunity to both benefit from their merchandise and grants and give back by donating or volunteering in my neighborhood. Community Closet Stores are the neighbors I rely on to connect, stretch my budget, give back, participate, and feel good about what’s happening in my community. They infuse the process of recycling resources with communal warmth and meaningful experiences that make me grateful they are my neighbor. I think Fred Rogers would approve.