DELTA TWP. – On Tuesday morning, the Lansing Mall’s corridors were far from busy, but a 980-square-foot storefront near the food court was bustling with activity.
There, more than a half-dozen volunteers spent the morning sorting and packing hundreds of diapers for Lansing-area residents in need. The mall storefront, previously occupied by a massage business, is the Capital Area Diaper Bank’s new home.
The diaper bank will share space there with its parent outreach, Cardboard Prophets, for at least the next year, said Linda Karl, the administrative assistant for both organizations.
The mall space will serve as a hub for the diaper bank’s distribution efforts in Ingham, Eaton, Clinton and Shiawassee counties — the outreach will dole out 10,000 diapers this month — but it will also be a place where people can come for food, clothing and other personal items if they are living between shelters or on the streets.
The Lansing Mall’s proximity to bus stops isn’t the only reason it’s the perfect place for both outreach efforts, Karl said.
Malls are community gathering spots where everyone should feel welcome, she said.
“It’s where I’ve always wanted to be,” she said. “When you come in the mall after Thanksgiving and your kids are in line, look around. You’ll see many homeless with their children. My dream is to see homeless kids be able to go up and see Santa.”
“It’s easily accessible to anybody,” said Mike Karl, Cardboard Prophets’ founder and Linda’s son.
Welcoming those in need
It will be difficult to convince people without a roof over their heads to come to the Lansing Mall for help, but Thumper Thomas is hopeful it can be done.
Homeless for years himself, Thomas was on site volunteering at the diaper bank’s new space on Tuesday. Before he had a place to live he avoided busy public places, he said.
There’s a stigma associated with living on the streets, Thomas said, and it feels heavier in brightly lit shopping malls.
“When you walk into a place like that to come into a place like this, you’ve got to walk through enemy territory to get here,” he said. “Once you walk through those doors, it’s gonna be like home, but it’s getting through those doors.”
The goal, Mike Karl said, is to make the mall storefront feel like a shopping experience rather than an outreach office.
Black paint covering the space’s front windows will soon be removed. A rack of new clothing occupies one corner. Volunteers plan to keep food and personal items stocked, as well as diapers, for anyone who stops by with a need.
Mike Karl is hopeful those without housing will feel comfortable coming in. The outreach can help with securing homeless identification and connecting people with agencies that can help them move toward stability.
“I’m going to start helping people into shelters, helping people into hotels, helping them to navigate the system,” he said.
Plans for the future
Linda Karl said an “anonymous donor” who she declined to name volunteered to pay for the storefront lease for one year. The person contacted her in late October, suggesting the diaper bank, previously housed in a warehouse near Lansing, consider moving to the mall, she said.
Volunteers began moving into the storefront a week ago.
Jaime Chemacki, with Cristo Rey Community Center, stopped by the diaper bank’s new location Tuesday to pick up an order for the center’s baby program, which helps provide diapers for 60 to 75 families every month.
The diaper bank helps the community center make a difference in people’s lives, Chemacki said.
“We operate on donor money, so any kind of supplement to that is awesome,” she said. “It makes a world of difference.”
The Cristo Rey center is one of several nonprofits, churches and agencies that get diapers from the Capital Area Diaper Bank every month, Linda Karl said.
Anywhere between 7,000 and 10,000 donated diapers come into the bank and are distributed from it each month.
Linda Karl believes the diaper bank will be in the mall longer than a year.
“I don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said. “If God put me here, I’ll stay here. I’m not worried about it.”
More about the outreach
To learn more about the Capital Area Diaper Bank, find them on Facebook by searching for “Capital Area Diaper Bank.” Contact them at 712-0008. They are located in the Lansing Mall at 5330 W. Saginaw Hwy.
Contact Rachel Greco at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ .