June 3, 2014 at 2:25 PM ET
There are no price tags on any of the items sold in Selfless Blessings, a small Missouri shop that offers everything from canned goods to clothing and other supplies to cover basic survival needs.
That’s because everything in the store is free.
“Selfless Blessings is a lot like a thrift store but we are a free store for families who are in need,” the store’s 38-year-old owner, Andrea Berdine, told TODAY. “They come in, they shop. We have a donation jar. If they can donate, then they do. If they can’t, then they leave with a hug.”
Berdine started the project in 2012 after witnessing something that brought her to tears. She was shopping at a retail store when she saw a man turned away because he asked for a coat.
“He was ridiculed, put down, made fun of,” she recalled. “He was wanting a coat. I said, ‘So you have racks and racks of coats here. And that man is cold and he’s wet and it’s raining and he’s obviously homeless.’ And nobody would give him a coat.”
Berdine was stunned. She got in her car and drove around until she found the man. She then picked up her husband’s jacket from the back seat.
“I gave him the coat. Told him he was a man of worth. Told him I was embarrassed that that happened in our community,” she said.
That act of giving inspired Berdine to create a Facebook page where the community could connect and contribute to each other. Some people posted items that they could donate, like an extra can of baby formula or package of diapers. Others spoke of what they needed, such as the single dad looking for shoes for his children.
The concept eventually grew into a standalone shop in Hollister, Missouri. Selfless Blessings is now stacked with hundreds of items donated every day by the community.
“I have clothes to give back today that will help somebody else's family, and in time, I’m sure that family will able to give back and help someone else's family,” said Louis Nelson after dropping off a bag of items.
About 100-150 people walk through the store each day, Berdine said.
“Thank God there is a place you can go to without feeling ashamed or embarrassed, or even going to a thrift store where you don’t have 50 cents for a pair of pants,” said Dennie Alman, who is currently unemployed.
The patrons who shop at Selfless Blessings take what they need and donate what they can, she said. “Everybody gives back. I give back. I’m poor (but) I give back,” Alman said.
Krisse Johnson said she contributes whenever possible: “I can’t always make a money donation but I also trade in a lot of clothes. I’ll bring in clothes my kids can’t fit anymore and get clothes that they can.”
The store's offerings can mean the difference between life and death for some.
“When it’s freezing cold outside and you don’t have enough blankets, and they give you blankets, then you’re blessed,” said Larry Fraser, who is homeless. “You're keeping warm. It’s keeping you from dying.”
One recent day, Fraser walked out the door with some food that he paid for with gratitude.
“I didn't have anything to eat tonight. God bless you. Love you," he told Berdine as he walked out.
"Love you, too," she told him.