The mission of the store is to make available as many of the daily and longer term needs of individuals and families to as many as possible. All items that we make available come from donations. We do not restrict anyone from using the store.
Way back in the mid nineteen-eighties two Catholic Workers wanted to address the need that people in Worcester had for clothing. They rented a store front and opened it up to everyone in need of clothing. They called it the Little Free Store. People would come and drop off clothing, bedding etc. Folks in need would come into the store and take what they needed at no cost. Our lady missionary of hope was involved because at that time it was sponsoring Vietnamese families and it needed a source for clothing, especially winter clothing.
Unfortunately the founders had not planned on how they were going to pay the expenses incurred in having a store front. They tried, but always seemed to come up short in the fund raising department. Finally, the landlord evicted them. The electric company shut off the power. The gas company shut off the heat. They were finally forced to close the doors of the Little Free Store. When we saw what was happening we decided that we should take some action to keep the store open. So we approached the then director of the Permanent Diaconate in the Catholic Diocese of Worcester and asked permission to expand our ministry to include the Little Free Store because we were convinced that it was much too important a ministry in the City of Worcester to let it die.
The first thing we did was to find someone who would finance; I mean pay off the outstanding debt. Once this was done we opened the doors of the Little Free Store once again, but only on Saturdays. We actively started an ongoing fund raising effort to help pay the expenses of the store via a bi-monthly newsletter which we called StreetLights.
It soon became clear that the space was much too small and so we moved to the basement of a factory at the corner of Chandler and Piedmont streets. We no sooner moved into this space when two defining ideas came to light. The first was that now we were receiving furniture donations as well as clothing we could offer some of the surplus items in the store. The second was that we had become a nuisance in the neighborhood. When we would get into our van and start to drive home we would see clothing strewn all over the streets and in people’s yards.
Ed Hall, a Rotarian, who had been helping us with our resettlement efforts, offered some advice. “You need to take a page out of Dr. Tom Dooley’s book,” He said. “Tom Dooley worked in the jungles of Vietnam as a medical doctor. He would demand and accept anything for payment, an egg, cigarette, chicken, anything.” And so we started to ask for a donation. It was $.10 a pound. Almost every single person who came into the store complained. “You sign says, Little Free Store. How come you are charging me for the clothing?” Our answer was, “we are not charging you. We are asking for a donation!” But the complaints would not go away. So we finally changed the name to the Little Store.
The Little Store operated at this location until it was flooded for the second time. It then moved to 731 Main Street which was the basement of an old auto dealership where it remained for the next 12 years. During this time the store patronage grew steadily.
In 2011 the store moved to its present location at 242 Canterbury Street, Worcester MA.
Currently the store offers everything a family needs. The donation amounts have risen over the years, but the mission has stayed the same. The store is managed on a daily basis by Walter. It has three part time employees and a number of volunteers as well as welfare to work recipients who come from the Welfare department. It has between 50 and 100 customers daily and is open Monday through Saturday’s from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Donation continue to be dropped off daily and we also do between 4 and 12 pickups a week.