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Making a difference: The Drawer nonprofit helps clothe people in need

Debby and Stew Shepard of Rosemount founded The Drawer in honor of Debby's mother Lucy Rozenberg, who gave her children and grandchildren socks and underwear each Christmas. The nonprofit is growing in its influence since it now collects thousands of socks and underwear to give children, homeless and anyone in need. Kara Hildreth / contributor 1 / 2
The Drawer in Rosemount just became a formal nonprofit with a vision to support, build relationships and distribute new socks and underwear to people in need of warmth and dignity. Kara Hildreth / contributor 2 / 2

A little boy smiles from ear to ear after he was given a new pair of Sponge Bob Square pants socks. A homeless man was grateful for warm socks to protect his feet from the elements and his worn winter boots that had holes on top.

Debby and Stew Shepard of Rosemount are humbled to share a few stories of how their brainchild nonprofit, The Drawer, has made a real difference in people's lives.

The Drawer nonprofit was founded as a living memorial to honor the life of Debby's mother Lucy Rozenberg who died in 2000.

Each Christmas, Lucy showed her loving care to her family when she gave everyone new socks and underwear as gifts. She even kept a record of everyone's sizes and preferences for undergarments. In the family, once a couple was engaged, the new person was even added to the family list.

"Everyone would get their own styles and sizes," Debby said. "I think that generation gave gifts at Christmas that were needed and not just wanted, and that was her loving way to let us know she loved us," she added.

After Lucy's death, the family bought new socks and underwear and filled a garbage bag and decided to donate all in honor of their mother and grandmother's wishes at Christmas. This family tradition continued for next 13 years as the family grew. But it was not until 2014, the family decided to create a living memorial through the help of social media.

"We all have so many people we are all connected to from high school and family all over the world," Debby said. Today there is a plastic hamper on the couple's front doorstep that is always ready to accept donations frequently dropped off by friends and strangers.

The Shepards decided to speak at local churches and gather donations on what they affectionately call "Undie Sunday." This has been received with growing support from area churches and across the state. Both travel regularly to the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen and graciously donate socks and underwear to the homeless.

"The year my parents moved to Hawaii, we got more donations mailed," Stew said.

Mission, vision

In the last four years, The Drawer has donated thousands of undergarments to children, teens, women and homeless. Since August, the Shepards decided to get serious about this labor of love and form a nonprofit formally called The Drawer.

The nonprofit's mission is to support, build relationships and distribute new socks and underwear to people in need. The nonprofit wants to embody the Bible quote from Matthew 25:36 that states "I need clothes and you clothed me."

When Stew retired, he asked for donations for The Drawer in lieu of retirement cards. He was happy to receive more than 700 pairs donated to celebrate his retirement and his new labor of love.

"It is definitely bigger than us and we could not do this alone; it is the power of people," Stew said. The group is working to form a board of directors to help with visioning.

Since 2014, donations have tripled. Last week, the city of Rosemount staff donated 250 pairs of socks and underwear in an office goodwill drive for The Drawer.

"It is creating the power of community and many from different ages are getting involved and doing something about it," Stew said.

A loyal longtime friend from Hastings helps out regularly. Farmington High School student Kailey Felch gives her time to make sure donations are ready to give out.

"The power of community is we are asking from people so we can give to people," Debby said. "Our motto is we are trying to provide warmth and dignity," she added.

Farmington Lutheran Church and Lighthouse Church in Rosemount all confirmed dates set to host an Undie Sunday donation drive from church congregations.

Besides social groups, The Drawer plans to donate new socks and underwear to area and local schools via school nurses and social workers. "Our goal is to have the nurses stocked with socks and underwear so they can give them to a child after an accident because our goal is the children can avoid any embarrassment and get them ready to get back into classes," Debby said.

Social service partners

The Drawer partners will many social service groups and prides itself on being 100 percent inclusive to work and donate to any church, temple or mosque that makes a request. The group has given to needy through the Shiloh Temple, Dakota Woodlands and the Robert Lewis House. The nonprofit group proudly partners with 360 Communities' Armful of Love, Lutheran Social Services and Streetworks.

Last year The Drawer gave 1,500 pairs of socks and underwear to The Link, a group that aims to empower youth who have been sexually exploited or are part of the juvenile justice system. The nonprofit regularly donates to homeless in the seven-county metro area.

"Last March, The Link asked if we had anymore, and then we knew we were just touching the top of the iceberg," Stew said smiling.

In past years, the couple gathered donations for a January drive, but to meet the constant demand that is year around, The Drawer is now operating all year long. "The need is unending and once a month collection was not enough, so we took it on the road," Stew said.

After Hurricane Harvey, The Drawer gathered and donated more than 2,400 pairs of socks and underwear to send south to hurricane victims.

Stew recalled the story of a homeless man three years ago.

"When I looked down and saw his boots had holes where you could see his toes, I knew he needed socks and boots," he said.

A year later, when Stew came across the homeless man at the shelter, the man said gave him a thumbs up and said he had probably saved his life. They sat and ate together.

"I do not know the man's name but I know we are friends for life," Stew said.

Four ways to support The Drawer:

• Donate new socks and underwear to The Drawer.

• Churches can host "Undie Sunday" or similar drive at civic group, workplace or organization. The group can provide support, communication, ideas and collection.

• Making a cash donation supports the operating expenses and a charitable tax receipt can be issued and also for new sock and underwear donations.

• Volunteer with The Drawer to assist with outreach, support, breakdown and delivery of socks and underwear to those in need.

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