Delavan nonprofit helps struggling families, mothers

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Saturday, April 5, 2014

DELAVAN—For nearly 25 years, Mary's Room has been quietly serving women and children in Walworth County.

The scope of its ministry has expanded, but it operates under the radar, a non-profit that many people have never heard of.

Co-founder Peggy Nieuwenhuis talked about how Mary's Room got started and what it has accomplished.

Q: What is Mary's Room?

A: “It's a women and children's clothes closet that's set up like a store,” Nieuwenhuis said.

The charity helps single mothers, struggling families and grandparents who have been given charge of their grandchildren.

Mary's Room doesn't charge its users, but “asks people to take only what they need,” Nieuwenhuis said.

Often, the people who use the service later donate gently used clothing that their children have outgrown.

“Really, it's not so much about asking for help as it is about sharing,” Nieuwenhuis said. “They realize what they're getting there, and they give back so they can bless someone else.”

Q: How did it get started?

A: “It came from our pro-life stance,” Nieuwenhuis said. “Someone said to us, 'You're pro-life, but you're not doing anything about it.'”

So Nieuwenhuis and her husband, Mel, started Mary's Room, reaching out to single women and adults serving as foster parents.

Slowly, the ministry expanded to include families in difficulty.

“It started in our basement,” Nieuwenhuis said.

Later, the Jeninga family allowed Mary's Room to use part of their home, and now the United Way pays the rent for the space they use.

Q: How do clients find out about Mary's Room? 

A: “We don't advertise,” Nieuwenhuis said. “We send information to WIC, Walworth County Public Health and the schools.”

Churches, too, can refer people to Mary's Room.

The all-volunteer organization “doesn't have the arms and legs to investigate” each individual's income or needs, and doesn't want to be in that position.

Nieuwenhuis said the group doesn't want to have to grill people about their incomes or turn people away who are truly in need.

Q: How can people help?

A: The organization takes donations of gently used clothing for women and children. Because of the size of the organization, people with items to donate need to make an appointment by calling 262-203-0993. It may take up to a week for someone to respond.

Financial donations can be sent to Mary's Room, Box 66, Delavan, WI., 53115.

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