Local pastor and Helping Hand Me Downs volunteer Curtis Campbell moved to St. Louis with his family four years ago to take the role of discipleship pastor at MiddleTree Church in North City. He then discovered Helping Hand Me Downs through our operations director Kim Dann Messier, who encouraged him to volunteer with us.
Our mission fits perfectly alongside Curtis’ work at MiddleTree, as the church focuses heavily on the role of the church as a contributor to its surrounding community. “We believe we should make every place better physically and spiritually - starting with our city,” their mission statement reads.
“There are people who are broken and don’t want to share that with anyone. But when they do, they’re grateful someone cares,” says Curtis. He comments further about how being a volunteer doesn’t require coming up with a solution to all the world’s larger problems at once. Instead, for that moment, hour or afternoon spent folding clothes, cleaning or organizing, time spent helping others is what matters most. “I may never meet the person who benefits. Sometimes I do, and it’s amazing. But just showing up and trying is what’s important.”
Keep reading to learn more about his journey and the impact of volunteering with us.
Tell me a little about your background and work with Helping Hand Me Downs.
After I’d been in at MiddleTree for a couple of years, I was looking to volunteer somewhere outside of the church that was meeting the needs of those in North City. I was hooked from the first time I went in to Helping Hand Me Downs and learned what it was about. Hard to believe that was two years ago now. I started out folding donation clothing items and sorting it all into bags, then I moved into preparing larger donations and helping organize the space: cleaning, vacuuming, taking out the trash, moving summer bags into the winter storage space. Things like that. Going on deliveries was also very eye-opening, especially when you see how appreciative people are.
It’s clear that MiddleTree is very devoted to the surrounding community as well. What does your role there entail?
As discipleship pastor I work with local community groups, which pertains to a range of topics: men and women’s groups, bible studies, playing music and more. My role is really to work with people and develop the relational aspect of the church, whether that’s encouraging leaders to get involved, facilitating group study or something in between.
My family and I moved here almost four years ago from Wisconsin to become part of this church, which was a bold move for us. But the mission was so compelling, and we knew the pastor at MiddleTree and his wife from our high school days. We were craving the kind of diversity St. Louis has, which has really been reflected in our life here. Our church is wonderfully diverse and our kids go to Lafayette Preparatory Academy, which is also very diverse. In approaching difficult issues and questions that have arisen here, I do my best to ask questions—to listen first and speak second.
Do you have a favorite story, moment or memory that occurred through your volunteer work with Helping Hand Me Downs?
I remember a couple of Christmases ago, Stephanie [Williamson, our founder] was up front talking to a family. The father was out of a job, they had three kids, and nothing for them for Christmas. We don’t normally do this, but Stephanie brought them to the back where all the donations are and encouraged them to pick out a few things. Man, you should have seen their faces. That moment of joy was so cool to see.
That actually highlights one of my favorite parts of Helping Hand Me Downs: that it has connected me to these experiences I never would have encountered on my own. I remember the father chose a set of kitchen knives, because he loved to cook but had no utensils for their kitchen. The mother and kids followed suit, and they each left with something really special. I love seeing that, and being part of an organization that helps meet our clients’ physical needs while making sure they’re treated with the great respect they deserve. A church can do a lot to help a community, but it’s so much better to join something that’s already working instead of trying to start your own thing.
Out of the many ways and places to volunteer, what made you choose Helping Hand Me Downs?
When our church pastor and I started having conversations that led to us moving here, he told me that majority of single-family homes in the neighborhood where MiddleTree is located were occupied by single mothers. While that speaks to a lot of issues, on a human level I couldn’t stop thinking about how incredibly difficult that experience must be: the challenge of working and raising kids, and having to do it all without a partner.
I kept thinking, if that’s the case in our immediate surroundings, who’s helping them? Do they have time and capacity to go to the grocery store? Buy clothes for their kids? Maintain friendships? Helping Hand Me Downs is so specific to that need, which is not easy to find. When I first started volunteering it was so enlightening to see all the moms coming in and then leaving with everything they needed. I couldn’t deny that there was no way I could do it better.
Also, it’s a lot of fun. We all joke around and laugh a lot. You get to know Stephanie and the rest of the team, as well as the other volunteers. It never felt like a chore.
How has working with Helping Hand Me Downs changed you?
I was re-reading some of the blogs on the website from other volunteers and Kim Forney, who does deliveries and pickups, said something that really resonated with me. He spoke about the power of seeing people become so joyful and thankful, and I can really echo that sentiment. You see what it looks like for people who have to live so differently—and not that I’m some super wealthy guy who has everything I could ever ask for, by comparison. But there is a very real part of our community where people don’t have the bare, basic essentials that are required to live. They’re in survival mode. And I can’t think of anything more noble than helping people obtain those essentials.