Inside Redeemer Lutheran Church, classrooms formerly filled with second-grade students are being stocked with canned goods, clothing racks and an assortment of household items, such as rubber duckies and microwaves.
Once Concordia Lutheran School closed in June 2012 due to low enrollment, officials at the Hyattsville church considered how best to use the space. They opened a Lutheran Mission Society Compassion Center — part thrift shop and part ministry.
There are seven other similar centers in Maryland; this is the first in Prince George’s County.
Eric Linthicum, pastor at Redeemer, said the center will provide free bags of food and other goods to families in crisis.
“The concept is that, you cannot allow people to go hungry,” Linthicum said.
Abby Sandel, Hyattsville’s community services director, said there is a tremendous need for food assistance programs in the city.
According to data from the Maryland State Department of Education, about 60 percent of Prince George’s County public school students and 75 percent of students in Hyattsville’s public schools qualify for free or reduced-cost meals.
“It’s going to fill gaps for families in crisis,” Sandel said.
The center has been running since Aug. 29 and had its grand opening Sept. 14. Through volunteers and donations, it will offer goods at reduced rates and free spiritual counseling three days per week, Thursdays through Saturdays.
“Working as a team with a church, it’s good for both of us,” said David Maack, the society’s executive director. “People know about us. They come to us from far distances because they know we will help them.”
Linthicum said Redeemer will add other community services, including an English as a second language class, tutoring, a job search assistance program, and free access to a computer lab at the former school site.
“We lost the school, but we still have the mission,” said Marlene Young of College Park, a longtime church member and volunteer.
Redeemer is working with Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mount Rainier, which shared ownership of the school, to help run the center, Linthicum said.
The school launched at Trinity’s Mount Rainier location in 1944 and originally was known as Trinity Lutheran School. The school was renamed Concordia Lutheran School in 1956 when it added a location at Longfellow Street in Hyattsville.
The Redeemer church, at 3799 East-West Highway in Hyattsville, opened in 1959. Due to declining enrollment, the school moved into to Redeemer’s building in 2011 before shutting down the next year, Linthicum said.
Marlene Young of College Park, a longtime church member and volunteer, said she is excited for Redeemer to begin a new era.
“We lost the school, but we still have the mission,” Young said.