Like song lyrics that keep repeating, a video emailed from a friend kept replaying in Becky Schow’s mind.
“It had a huge impact on me. It was about a humanitarian center in Idaho Falls, where volunteers came to make needed items for nonprofits to distribute to clients,” said Schow, 56, a Rupert resident and secretary and co-owner of Schow’s Truck and Equipment in Heyburn. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it and finally called a friend and said, ‘We’ve got to do this for the Magic Valley.’”
Schow and two friends, Kathy Duncan and Jennifer Lloyd, began planning the nonprofit volunteer Magic Valley Humanitarian Center more than two years ago.
Since opening in March, about 170 volunteers come Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. They log about 2,500 hours a month, making quilts and blankets, newborn kits, sleeping mats for the homeless, personal hygiene kits, school kits, and learning worksheets for math and reading.
“Think of a nonprofit, and we’re probably making something for them,” Schow said, referring to local churches, crisis centers, shelters, hospitals and schools. “We don’t serve their clients directly here but provide what those organizations need to distribute.”
Her smile is as radiant as those of volunteers who laugh and chat as they work.
“Every time I look around, I’m inspired by the outpouring of love,” said Schow, center president. “It’s a place where we meet the needs of people in the Magic Valley. There aren’t many places like this where no one is paid and nothing is sold. Volunteers and donors give freely of their time, talents, and resources.”
When the three homemakers, who live in Rupert, began telling others about their vision for a center, steady community support encouraged them. They looked for an ideal location in town and decided to renovate a forlorn grocery store that had stood empty for nine years.
“We thought it would take three months to refurbish, but it took more than a year,” Schow said. “It was humbling to know that so many community members just want to help make a difference and helped. It’s all about neighbors helping neighbors.”
A woman bought three recliners at a local furniture store and told Schow to call the store whenever she wanted them delivered. A painter donated his time and materials. Eight sewing machines were donated.
When they come to the center, volunteers sign a registry to track their hours, pick a project and work at a station where supplies are provided.
“Some volunteers quilt or crochet, while others would rather assemble personal hygiene or newborn kits,” Lloyd said.
Many personal hygiene kits are provided to the College of Southern Idaho Refugee Center for their clients who are taking English as a Second Language classes and learning about American culture.
Fidget blankets are sewn for those recovering from strokes or who have dementia. The blankets—about 18 inches square—have buttons, bells, and textured cloth sewn on them.
“They’re sensory stimulation, to help soothe people,” Lloyd said.
Volunteers sew clothing to give to mortuaries when families are dealing with the death of a baby.
“We get wedding gown donations and use them to make outfits for babies’ burials,” said Schow, who gave her gown.
Plastic grocery store bags are woven into thick sturdy mats with pillows and ties for homeless people. The mats can be rolled up and carried like a backpack. Each one has the outline of a heart woven into it and a tag with the center’s logo and a message of love.
Schow said the center has affected lives in unexpected ways.
“A judge sentenced some people to do their community service here,” she said. “They liked it here so much, they became regular volunteers.”
Duncan said, “Whatever we do here, we want to make a difference in one life. It starts from the heart.”
Schow said they cannot wait to open the doors and see what will happen.
“We wonder how lives will be touched that day,” Becky said. “The Humanitarian Center is a place where you make miracles happen—not only for the poor and needy, but for ourselves, too, because serving brings amazing joy into all our lives. It’s a reminder there’s good in the world.” ISI
The center accepts monetary and material donations at 723 F St. in Rupert and may be reached at 208.261.2533 or at mvhumanitarian.org.