You know that family that loses their house to a fire, or loses their jobs and then their home because they can’t pay the mortgage, or a single mother living on just her income that has a catastrophic illness. You know them, you may be them. We can all be them tomorrow because sometimes it gets tough.
Chester Mercy Mall is a small little grassroots operation that wants to help those that are in the most desperate of times. The Mercy Malls are the brainchild of a church in Arkansas. The Chester Mercy Mall has been adapted by a dedicated group of volunteers in the area. Tia Erskine and four other board members – Annie Erskine, her mother, Shannon Amerson, and Karen and Angel Gonzalez – are the founders of the boutique in the area.
The Chester Mercy Mall opened late this fall in hopes of reaching and helping the most desperate of those in need.
Erskine had heard about the Mercy Mall from an outreach community activity done through her church. She worked alongside Stacey Jones at the Chesterfield Mercy Mall located in Midlothian at 3830 N. Bailey Bridge Road at Uncle Bob’s Storage. “I said ‘We need a Mercy Mall in Chester’ and that’s how it started,” Erskine shared. She was already making deliveries to people in Chester and thought why not? So, the idea was born.
The mercy malls began in Arkansas where they are operated out of self-storage centers in units where they store, sort and share the donations they receive. Jones moved to Virginia and decided that her area needed one. And this bore the fruit of Erskine’s and the other volunteers decision to commit to the undertaking.
“We have sponsors that pay for the storage units we have at Walthall Self Storage at 14324 Jefferson Davis Highway in Chester,” said Erskine, “We work out of units 223 and 230.” But, they need so much help. They need goods and donations because there are so many people in need. “I know of people coming all the way from Waverly to visit the Chester Mercy Mall,” Erskine shared. Two of the board members currently foot the bill for the storage units, but donations are so welcome to help the effort go on and grow.
The Chester Mercy Mall provides a number of items, when available, but not limited to nonperishable food; clothing, belts,jewelry and shoes; health and beauty care; laundry detergent; baby clothes, diapers, and equipment, misc. household items, furniture, and whatever folks in the area will share. In addition, Mercy Mall has a small army of supporters that it reaches out to when it has specific needs that it might not have in stock.
Shoppers are asked to fill out a registration card. Volunteers help them during their visit to locate and coordinate the items that they need. Patrons can visit the mall ever 30 days.
Erskine said that what they basically do is ask. “We beg and beg,” Erskine said as she smiled. The Thomas Dale alumni is committed to her community of Chester and wants to reach those who have hit on hard times, yet may not qualify for help elsewhere. When asked why her effort is different than others, like using an inexpensive goods-type-store she shared an analogy. “How does a homeless man pay for a $4 or $5 shirt?” Erskine smiled knowingly at the thought of it.
See, Erskine and her mother Annie do know. A few years back Annie got very sick and she couldn’t work. The illness dragged on and she spent a major amount of time in the hospital and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong. And it dragged on and bills couldn’t be paid and things got desperate for the mother and daughter pair.
Erskine told of her mother almost dying before they diagnosed her with Lupus, an anti-immune disease that affected all her organs. “We almost lost her,” the soft-spoken Erskine said of her mom. “It was a horribly scary time and we couldn’t pay our bills.”
The women know what it means to almost lose it all. So, they, and the board of the 501(c)3 non-profit run through Grace Home Ministries of Chesterfield, have felt the effects of not having enough, having lost almost everything.
It makes the almost timid Erskine turn into a passionate fireball as she shares what Chester Mercy Mall means to her and others that are in need. “When they come to us here and they say they are in need, we take them at face value,” Erskine said. “We don’t ask for any verification we are just here to help.”
Just in the few months the Chester Mercy Mall has been opened they’ve achieved incredible things. At Thanksgiving they gave out 142 turkey dinners for families in need. They raised some donations and a business matched their donations to provide the meals, along with the Chesterfield Mercy Mall and a Henrico location, they provided almost 350 meals total.
Erskine believes in this mission. “We ask that you have a genuine need and that you take what you need but remember there are others that are in need also,” Erskine said. She tells the story of Ms. Kay who has six children and lost her job. She also shares stories of men who are proud. “We ask men who are so proud to bring some things to swap, and then they can come and get what they need and trade some things they may no longer need,“ she explained.
Erskine has a dream to see Chester Mercy Mall in a storefront someday. For right now, though, she’s just glad to be doing the mission of the Lord. “Just to know there’s a place people can go,” she explained. “Those in need can shop every 30 days for two outfits, one pair of shoes per person and food and housewares, if we have them.”
The Chester Mercy Mall needs volunteers to help sort and stock the mall. They also need monetary help and donations of goods. Right now they are trying to collect coats for the winter.
They would like to get as many coats as possible by January. They especially need little boys clothes, men’s clothing and plus sizes. They’d love to have toys for Christmas but any help is appreciated. Shelving, clothes, any items people can spare are welcome “We appreciate what Chester has done,” said Annie Erskine. “We appreciate their support, all the donations, volunteers and anything that’s been given because we couldn’t do it without them.” Tia Erskine shouted out, “Keep it coming.”
If you would like to contribute monetary donations, or share previously loved goods that could help those in need, Chester Mercy Mall can be found on Facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/chestermercymall or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 804-277-9834. Their hours of operation are Monday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.