Mancelona added a new store last week. It’s in a unique location, Mancelona High School.
The store opened to all students January 4, after the return from winter break.
It’s a store where everything, from food, clothing and hygiene products cost the same – free.
The store is the idea of high school teacher, Monica Malbouef, and two community members – Kathy Lightbody and Michelle Scott. It’s inspired by a similar store at Kalkaska High School.
“I recently moved back to Mancelona High School, which is my hometown,” says Malbouef. “When we got here and I noticed that we didn’t have this type of resource for the students, I went to some of my best and asked them to come on board and help me get started.”
The set up of the store allows any student to easily choose items they are in need of without the fear of stigma. Items are displayed much like a clothing rack or shoe rack at any other store. And hygiene products are separated and kept discreet.
“They want to keep their identity and we want them to keep their identity says Michelle Scott, who volunteers at the store. “We don’t ever want them to feel bad about needing something. If you need it, take it. If you want it, leave it. And if we don’t have it, we tell them, let us know.”
Dozens of students will visit the store each lunch period. It’s become popular in the student body while also encouraging students to ask for help when they need it.
“When they’re in this environment and they hear another student ask I think it helps them be more comfortable,” says Scott.
“Everyone, to me, deserves the right to be able to come in and make choices for themself and to make those decisions deciding what they need, what style they might want, what fits their personality,” says Malbouef.
Also in the store is a food section where meal bags are prepared and sent out to students each Thursday, for those who ask for it. More than thirty students are currently receiving meals, which Malbouef says also teaches them how to cook for themselves if parents are away.
Students return the bags to the store the following week.
These ventures, which they hope to expand to the lower grade levels, isn’t possible without the community support and the volunteers such as student Amber Schlaff.
“I know a lot of people have a hard time getting things that they need and I feel like it’d be nice to help,” says Schlaff. “Me being a part of the store is helping them in a way, even if they don’t really know it.”
The Iron Vault runs completely on donations and financial support. Donated new clothing and hygiene products can be left at Gill-Roy’s Hardware in Mancelona. Volunteers are picking up donations almost daily.
They also accept donations which allows the organizers to purchase specific items such as non perishable food, which they can buy cheaper in bulk. Cash donations can be made out to Mancelona Schools Iron Vault, PO Box 619, Mancelona, MI 49659. There’s also an Amazon web page where shoppers can choose from a list of items that will go to the store.
The Iron Vault is open twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays, during lunch.