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Clothing swaps getting swamped

The From Me to You clothing swaps at First United Methodist Church in Gillette have given people a place to donate and pick up clothing for several years. Now the effort needs more room to grow.

The nonprofit allows people to donate and pick up clothing, along with other items like bedding and luggage, at a shed in front of the church 24/7.

The items are sorted and distributed a couple of times a month during swaps, where people pick up items for themselves or others.

Gillette resident Sarah Hartman participates in the swap to get clothing for herself, her husband and four children.

“It’s wonderful not having to feel like you have to go out and spend your extra money on clothing,” she said. “It’s just a huge blessing. It takes such a huge weight off.”

“(Clothing is) expensive and kids grow out of them quickly, so why not get them for free if they are being offered for free?” asked volunteer Kim Messenheimer. “If you can save money on clothing, you can have more money for food and paying other bills.”

People who attend the swaps come from all types of backgrounds.

“We’re not super well-off, but we get by with what we have,” Hartman said, adding that volunteers with From Me To You and the church do not make people feel like they are poor or are getting a handout.

“We don’t ask what your income is,” Messenheimer said. “It doesn’t matter.”

Tight quarters

From Me to You originally only accepted maternity and baby clothing, but has expanded to women and men’s after Messenheimer and First United Methodist Church administrative assistant Meghan Davies took over the swap about six years ago.

“We opted to keep it going because people get tight on money and the last thing they need is to spend money on clothes,” Davies said.

Messenheimer appreciates what the church has done in providing the space for the effort, but it has been operating in tight quarters inside the church for awhile. Volunteers sometimes have to store things inside a bathroom or a hallway.

“We are in desperate need for a bigger building,” she said. “Fortunately, the Methodist Church has been very gracious in letting us use the (space). But they are in hopes of growing the building and may need those rooms back, which is understandable.”

Hartman said the church “has been amazing in letting them use many of their rooms, but when they have a swap there’s so much stuff out there. Right now, they have to tear down and set up every time they have a swap.”

Another issue is a lack of volunteers.

“It would be nice to have more regular volunteers, but volunteers seem to be hard to come by,” Messenheimer said.

She has reached out to the juvenile courts to try and recruit kids who could volunteer as part of their community service requirements.

In the past, people from Adult Treatment Courts as well as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have helped.

The volunteers for From Me to You typically come in Tuesdays and Thursdays to sort through the items and stock shelves, closets and clothing racks. Limited storage space make it tough when volunteers are sorting and getting items on clothing racks.

“It’s just a lot of extra work,” Davies said.

A struggle to keep up

Aside from space, From Me to You is dealing with a constant flow of donations.

Along with the twice-monthly swaps, the group works with other local agencies such as Second Chance Ministries, the Gillette Abuse Refuge Foundation and the Salvation Army.

“It doesn’t just stay here, we outreach to the community and beyond,” Davies said.

Items that are not needed are shipped to a facility in Washington state that sends them to developing countries.

Since President Donald Trump declared a national emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, donations have increased.

“We’ve had more people learn we exist,” she said. “Between us and Second Chance, we can’t keep up with the community.”

In its two August clothing swaps, From Me to You served 187 families and 606 people (321 children and 285 adults), although that does not count those who came at other times to pick up winter coats and boots.

That is average, Davies said about August’s numbers.

“The community is very generous in giving,” Messenheimer said. “It’s unreal the amount of donations that we get and often times we see things with brand new tags on them, things that are in very, very good shape.”

Some people bring in new items. Last year, Hartman picked up a Columbia jacket for her 3-year-old son.

“Our numbers seem to be growing,” Messenheimer said. “I imagine a lot of it has been (due to) people not working and other various reasons. We had to shut down our donation shed for the last week and a half because it was so full.”

From Me to You is only accepting baby clothing now because it is maxed out on adult clothes. People also can donate money to buy supplies like hangers and clothing racks.

From Me to You has been searching for places to relocate to without success.

“Being a nonprofit, we don’t have the income coming in,” Messenheimer said. “We don’t have the funds to rent a building. Renting is very expensive.

“We’ve talked about writing grants. We’ve talked to a few people to help us do that and gather the information that we need. Grant writing is quite the process, and to be honest, that’s not my forte.

“We just haven’t gotten anywhere with it yet, (but God) is in control and he’s blessed us so far.”

Boston Lee reacts to crashing a model plane he flew using one of the Gillette Sage Hoppers’ flight simulators during its annual Fly-In event.

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Airport traffic slowly increased for fourth straight month

Slowly but steadily, traffic at the Northeast Wyoming Regional Airport has been going up.

August saw an increase over the previous month, the fourth straight month this has happened, but it’s still far behind the numbers seen last year.

In August, 2,453 passengers came through the airport. It’s a 55% decrease from last August, when there were 5,457 passengers. And in July, there were 1,982 passengers. It was the first month since March where the airport had more than a thousand passengers.

Airport Director Jay Lundell said he hopes the airport can finish the year strong. In August, there were 1,150 flights booked for October, two months in advance. October typically sees strong numbers due to hunting season, he said.

“I’m positive it’s going to keep going up,” he said.

A lot of it is dependent upon how many people choose to travel during the holidays and whether the pandemic will force families to stay home.

The numbers in August were helped by the fact that the airport had two flights a day on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday. In September, there was just one daily flight.

August’s flights had an average load factor of 49.5%. So far in September, flights have been 75% full, but Lundell said that is partly due to there being just one flight per day this month.

In October, the airport will get a second daily flight on Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday, the same days as in August.

For the year, 18,987 travelers have used the airport, which is down 49% from 2019. Last year, the airport had that many passengers by the month of May. By this time last year, there were 37,202 passengers.

As slowly as the recovery might be going, it’s faster than the Sheridan, Riverton and Rock Springs airports. Lundell said he’s not sure why Gillette’s airport is recovering more quickly, but “I can’t say it’s because of the economy.”

He’s seen an increase in leisure travel, but corporate travel on the commercial flights is still slow. There have been more private charter flights coming to the airport recently, he added.