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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Center’s client count nearly doubles in two years

Mark Kinney
Mark Kinney, director of Mission Community Outreach Center, expands the clothing bank and its partner.

Neat racks of children’s, women’s and men’s clothing give those who come to Mission Community Outreach Center an experience of a clothing bank that lends a sense of dignity as people “shop” for what they need and like.

“We only put out quality clothing,” said executive director Mark Kinney, who was first in Spokane in 1994 as a KC135 navigator at Fairchild Air Force Base until 2000.

“The majority of clothing donations we receive is good quality,” he said, “but our volunteers will wash, mend and iron donations to make them even more appealing.”

After earning a degree in sociology in 1987 at South Dakota State University in Brookings, he served in the Air Force for 20 years and retired in Spokane to be near his children.

In 2009, while studying for a master’s degree in administrative leadership at Whitworth University, he joined the center’s board. After graduating in 2011, he was on the search committee for the first paid executive director, when someone suggested he do it.

Mark started part time and the position evolved into full time.  His military retirement makes it possible for him to afford to work there.

Mission Community Outreach Center at 1906 E. Mission is one of the largest free clothing banks in the region, he said.  It is open for customers and donors from 1:30 to 4 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. All its services are free.

“Low-income working people struggle, so we provide clothing, plus hygiene items and some kitchen and household items,” he said. “Everyone leaves with toothbrushes and toothpaste.  They can’t afford hygiene items when they are thrown a loop by unemployment, a medical emergency or a temporary need.”

In 2011, the client count was 11,500.  In 2013, it was 20,384.  In December 2011, he sent their newsletter to 80 people.  Now he sends itew to more than 700.

More people are coming because of partnerships Mark has developed.

For example, the center partners with World Relief Spokane to serve refugees resettling here.

“World Relief sends clothing donations they receive to us, so we manage their clothing program,” he said.  “Refugees arrive with no clothing.  They need the support of places like this for a while.”

Marshall Islanders are now about 20 percent of the client count, said Mark, who studied that community as part of a master’s degree project.

The outreach center also partners with other agencies to share clothing.  The YWCA’s Our Sister’s Closet shares excess donations, and the center reciprocates by providing clothing appropriate for women re-entering the workforce.  The center also shares donations with The City Gate and provides clothing for Family Promise clients.

Sacred Heart Hospital provides discarded thermal blankets and linens. The center distributes some to clients and gives some to quilting groups to use as batting.

As the great recession continued, the need in Spokane grew.  The center is now more well known, so we have significantly more referrals,” Mark said.

The program primarily serves people living in 99202, 99203, 99207, 99212, 99217 and 99223—eastern Spokane to the Spokane Valley, but it does not turn anyone away, he said, “even though our exponential growth has strained our resources.”

Along with clothing, the center provides toiletries, such as soap, razors, feminine products and diapers, things people on a limited budget cannot afford. 

“Given the power of the food and beverage lobby,” he commented, “people on food stamps can buy sugary drinks, but cannot buy a toothbrush and toothpaste.  Our legislators decide what people can and cannot buy with food stamps.  I’m amazed, because oral health is so important.”

People can come every 60 days and receive two complete sets of clothing for family members—two pants, two shirts, underwear, socks, jackets and shoes, so they can have clothing appropriate for the seasons. Household goods include blankets, sheets, towels, dishes, cups and glasses. Clients also receive two hygiene items.

People can come every 30 days for 12 diapers and wipes, formula and hygiene items for children under four.  The center distributed 35,000 diapers last year, costing an average of 20 cents each. 

“A dozen diapers help parents through a crisis,” he said.  “Our goal is to offer assistance but not foster dependency.

“We serve fire victims on referral from the American Red Cross, because low-income people often don’t have insurance.  We also help domestic violence victims who need to escape their abusers and re-establish themselves with essentials,” he said.

Led by Walt Shields, a group at Mission Community Presbyterian Church across Mission Ave. started the ecumenical nonprofit in 1996. Walt served as volunteer executive director for many years, and several church members still volunteer there.

Over the years, the center offered various programs, including tutoring by Gonzaga students, a medical clinic and a back-to-school backpack program.

The day after the church dissolved in 2012, Christ the King Anglican Church, which had been meeting at different locations, moved into the building as their first church home.  Its members have continued involvement.

In late August each year, the center temporarily becomes a shoe store—Mark quipped about his name being Kinney—with 50 volunteers putting in 200 hours to help give an old-fashioned shoe-store experience, fitting children with 800 new pairs of back-to-school shoes and socks.

One weekend before Christmas, the center offers parents a “Children’s Christmas Joy” shopping experience to select new blue jeans, underwear, hats, gloves, mittens and scarves.  Some items are donated.  Some are bought.

Some of the items Mark’s volunteers buy when bargain shopping in February are put in storage for Christmas.  He also looks for age-appropriate books for children.  One man, Jerry Wahl, makes and donates 200 wooden toys and cars, Mark said.

The center’s support comes from local churches, primarily First  and Hamblen Park Presbyterian, Holy Cross and Beautiful Savior Lutheran, and St. Aloysius.  Spokane Valley United Methodist helps mail the newsletter, saving costs of a mailing service.

Businesses, individuals and service groups, such as Kiwanis and Rotary, provide support.  Rotary 21 helped update the sorting area, including adding standing pads for volunteers to use when they sort clothing. An Avista grant upgraded lighting to cut power bills.

Madelyn Bafus, who joined the board after retiring as director of Family Promise, recently helped the center run a benefit play and silent auction, along with helping connect with the faith and nonprofit communities.

The center can operate on a $90,000 annual budget because it has about 35 weekly volunteers.

Sorting supervisor Connie Lee, a retired Department of Social and Health Services worker, continues to serve low-income people by helping the center manage volunteers and by sorting clothing.  She also takes clothing home to mend and works with her mother, Viola Greer of Deer Park, to make about 30 quilts a year.

Mark, who grew up Catholic and became Lutheran when he married, said, “My faith tells me to do this work. Matthew 25:35-36 says we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless and welcome strangers. 

“I believe that’s what God wants us to do for our brothers and sisters,” he said.

“Working with others in the faith community has deepened my faith,” Mark said.  “I see so many willing to help others who are less fortunate.  We don’t require people to be people of faith to volunteer or to be served.”

He is humbled by the gratitude and joy of people the center helps.

“Many say it makes a real difference in their lives,” he said.

For information, call 536-1084, email or visit

Copyright © May 2014 - The Fig Tree