WAKEFIELD — Rhonda Lorenzen created Wakefield’s Nearly New secondhand store in 2008 with the hopes of helping people in the community.
She had no idea how much the store would truly affect the people of Wakefield.
When the devastating tornadoes hit much of Northeast Nebraska five years ago, Lorenzen jumped into action and opened up the thrift shop’s doors to anyone who needed clothing or any other products that the store had to offer.
“If you had lost everything, you could come and get what you needed here, free of charge,” Lorenzen said.
Not only did Wakefield’s Nearly New become a safe space to pick up necessities, but the store also became the main drop-off for all donations coming to the area.
“We had already been set up to distribute items to where they were the most helpful,” Lorenzen said. “I don’t know what they would have done without us being here.”
The secondhand store received truckloads of donations from many places around Nebraska.
“The tornado definitely brought out the giving in everyone,” Lorenzen said.
People donated various items like toilet paper, cleaning buckets, mops, food, furniture and rolls of quarters for people to do their laundry, as well as other general necessities that people had lost.
“We had more toothbrushes and toothpaste than you can imagine,” Lorenzen said.
Wakefield’s Salem Lutheran sister church in Fremont was among the most generous donors. The church members collected a total of three semi-trailer loads of donations.
When all the donations were collected, Nearly New volunteers distributed the products to the appropriate facilities. All food went to the food bank, all water and cleaning supplies went to the city office and the rest of the donations were held at the thrift store. Nearly New opened up its garage and set up an easy pick-up for the non-perishable donated products.
“My husband looked at the amount of donations that had come in and said to me, ‘This is why you opened the store,’ ” Lorenzen said. “And he was right.”
There were 33 families that were affected by the severe weather. Out of those people who had lost their possessions, 27 families used the store and all the resources that were offered. Many people were affected both on the giving and receiving side of the cleanup process.
“Volunteers that had never volunteered here before were all jumping in and doing what could be done,” Lorenzen said. “There was lots of giving and donating and trying to help people get through it.”
Lorenzen and her husband offered their home for people to stay in, as did many other members of the community.
As of last summer, Wakefield’s Nearly New opened the last box of donated goods from the tornado five years ago, which goes to show the immense generosity of the people during that time.
“It was absolutely insane,” Lorenzen said.
The secondhand store is still working to create the best situation for the people of Wakefield. Lorenzen is thankful that she and the numerous volunteers were able to assist their community.
“We helped so many people in that short amount of time that wouldn’t have gotten help otherwise,” she said.