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The Little Turquoise House and its Great Big Heart

Starting in 1992, the people of Kiowa County—via budget allocation by the Board of County Commissioners—set aside $1,000 in the budget every year for providing general assistance to people who find themselves stranded in the county and are in need of help with money for gas or a hotel room. These unfortunate travelers would often receive the help through the Department of Social Services.

There is no doubt that many a sad tale was heard by the people working with DSS, one of whom was Charlotte Phillips. As Dennis Pearson, Director of the Department of Social Services for Kiowa County, describes it, Charlotte was always trying to think of ways they could be more of help, not just to travelers but to those Kiowa County friends and neighbors who have fallen on hard times.

Meanwhile, the owner of a little blue house on Highway 287 had passed away and deeded his property to the county. There was just one condition: the county had to agree to never sell the house. While undoubtedly grateful for the donation, the county was a little uncertain about what to do. Obviously, they couldn’t sell the house. A deal is a deal, no matter what you call it. They couldn’t just leave it vacant, either; to do so would be an invitation for trouble. And, at that time, there was no need for a rental as adequate housing was available.

Around 1995 or 1996, Charlotte saw a growing need that needed to be met. Plenty of people had good, wearable clothes that they no longer wore but there was nowhere to donate them and, heaven knows, you never throw away something that can still be put to use, no matter how crowded your closets may get. Plenty of other people needed good, wearable clothing for themselves and their children, but there were no used clothing places nearby and, heaven knows, prices in the stores had gotten so high. A place was required; someplace where the two groups could each do what they needed to do without either the county or the Department of Social Services having to explain to the taxpayers why they’d decided to go into retail sales. All that was needed was a good, little place…

Bingo.

It was the epitome of a good situation all around. The people of Kiowa County, supremely resourceful as they’re known to be, could, at last, empty up a little closet space and put the clothing to good use. Other people of Kiowa County, who were equally resourceful but just didn’t quite have as many resources to be resourceful with, would have a place where they could buy clothing at a price that wouldn’t break the bank. The county could have that little blue house finally be occupied without any fear of crazy parties or late night card games going on when it was thought no one was looking.

It was a wonderful case of people helping people. Better yet, the government was hardly involved. For their part, the county was so relieved that they agreed to not charge a dime for rent; all they asked is that the “tenants” cover their own utilities.

Those thoughtful folks at the Department of Social Services, no doubt under Charlotte’s urging and guidance, took it one step further. Given that money was going to be changing hands, it would be best to remove the store a step or two away from both the county and DSS, just for simplicity’s sake, if nothing else. Besides, such a move might even save the taxpayers a dollar or two since revenue from the store might be used to help those unfortunate travelers. All that was needed was an organization willing to offer—free of charge—the use of their name and maybe a little advice on how to set things up along the way.

Enter the Salvation Army, the organization famous around the world for their ministry to the homeless, the poor, the sick, the suffering and otherwise afflicted by the challenges that could be found in life. (They used to be famous for their uniforms, as well, which signified their membership in God’s army. However, once a year, the heartier types will change out their uniforms for red suits with white fur at the collar and cuffs when they dress up like Santa at Christmas.)
The people with DSS, along with Charlotte’s direction and encouragement, approached the Salvation Army and asked if they’d be willing to be associated with the store. No money would be needed. Charlotte and the others were certain the store would be able to cover the cost of utilities and provide general assistance to those in need, thus taking the burden off the county taxpayers.

Again, another idea good for all around. The Eads Salvation Army Unit came into being.

With that arrangement in place, Charlotte and other good hearted people began gathering materials. Volunteers were recruited—not much recruitment was needed—and, before long, those same good hearted people working in the little blue house were officially in business with most clothing items costing from fifty cents to a dollar. Money earned, less utilities and a few other expenses, was devoted to providing general assistance to people in need, specifically for things like gas to get to medical appointments or paying utility bills to avoid shut off. That was more than 20 years ago, and it’s still going strong today.

It’s surprising how many people over time can be helped by sales of items, one at a time for “four bits” to a dollar each. In fact, according to figures provided by Pearson, “Since January 1, 2003, the Eads Salvation Army Unit has assisted 1,956 individuals, and 95% of those individuals are Kiowa County residents. The total dollar amount spent on these 1,956 individuals totals $43,028. The vast majority of these funds have been raised by the sales from the Eads Salvation Army unit with the remainder being raised through donations.”

County residents, as a whole, have been helped, as well. Not only does it do a person’s heart good to know that neighbors and friends are receiving the help they need, taxpayers no longer see $1,000 of their collective tax payer dollars going to this self-sufficient venture when the money might be needed elsewhere.

Today, the Eads Salvation Army Unit is run by 10-12 consistent volunteers and serves people from Eads, Kit Carson, Cheyenne Wells, Lamar and the occasional travelers passing by. The revenue is somewhat steady, except for the last Saturday of the month. “If we can do $50 on a Saturday,” Pearson says, “we can cover our monthly expenses.”

As far as the Salvation Army is concerned, they continue to sanction the Eads Unit while also directly helping out in Kiowa County by contributing to the countywide food drive and toy drive, two programs that have been of benefits in circumstances where help has truly been needed. However, the store is completely self-sufficient and is open, with the exception of holidays, every Saturday. Likewise, if there’s an event bringing more people to town, such as the fair, the store will open up on additional days.

For those who are in need of clothing, Esther McCoin wants people to know that “there are some really lovely items available for purchase at the store, especially some of the cutest little baby clothes”. (There you go, Esther. I told you I’d put that in the article, and I did!)

And for those looking to make donations, the Eads Salvation Army Unit accepts, for the most part, what people are willing to donate. Unfortunately, they cannot accept furniture. There’s simply not enough room for larger items.

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