Employees and volunteers moved back and forth through the Salvation Army Family Store in Cloquet breaking down boxes and cleaning the retail space Tuesday, May 26.

The Salvation Army Northern Division announced it was permanently closing the store last week along with three other Minnesota locations in Faribault, Fairmont and Morris.

Retail operations of all Salvation Army thrift stores in Minnesota were suspended in late March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, and the organization was forced to reassess the viability of some of those stores, said Northern Division Service Extension Director Joanne Lee.

“Due to the financial impact we had to look at how we could maintain services going forward,” Lee said. “Our mission is to ‘meet human needs,’ and although people do need our thrift store, what they really need are things like our food shelf, our social services and our heat share program — which is a utility assistance program.”

While the thrift store closing is a loss for the community, Lee said she hopes the weekly food shelf distributions and financial aid programs will continue unabated throughout the pandemic.

“They’ve been here every Tuesday doing a drive-up food shelf, so people do not have to get out of their car,” Lee said. “We pre-pack the boxes and bring them out to their vehicle. That has not stopped for one week.”

The weekly distributions are available every Tuesday from 8:30-11:30 a.m. and again from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

The hope is food shelf clients will be better served with the thrift store closed, Lee said. The food shelf area — which is attached to the thrift store — is very small and doesn’t allow for social distancing.

Salvation Army Northern Division Services Director JoAnne Lee stands in the Cloquet food shelf. The organization hopes to move the shelf to the former retail store to allow for social distancing on distribution days. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal
Salvation Army Northern Division Services Director JoAnne Lee stands in the Cloquet food shelf. The organization hopes to move the shelf to the former retail store to allow for social distancing on distribution days. Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal

“Because of the coronavirus, we feel that it’s important that we continue the social distancing, the wearing of masks,” Lee said. “So our goal is to move the food shelf to the thrift store location — to the larger space where we can space things out and make sure the clients can get what they need.”

The Salvation Army office is still closed to in-person appointments, but people can access emergency financial assistance and the Heat Share programs by calling 651-746-3407.

Other efforts, like the Back to School, Adopt-a-Family and Kettle Campaign programs are scheduled to continue this fall.

“I know this is going to be hard on the community,” Lee said. “As a donor, it’s a resource where you can bring your unwanted items. It’s also going to be hard on our community members who need items from our stores. Hopefully we can work with Duluth and have a pretty easy transition.”

The Duluth Family Store plans to reopen in June.