Demand has grown dramatically post-COVID; MUST went from serving about 33,000 people each year before the pandemic to serving more than 70,000 each year since. Suburban poverty is the fastest rising form of poverty, Reighard said, as inflation, high housing prices and fluctuating markets continue to put families in difficult situations.
“Even though we’re the 27th or so largest 501(c)3 charity in metropolitan Atlanta, we still know there’s a lot of people who don’t know what we do,” Reighard said during an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
MUST Ministries’ largest annual fundraiser is the Gobble Jog in Marietta Square, on Thanksgiving Day. Now in its 21st year, the Gobble Jog includes timed 10K and 5K races that serve as qualifiers for the AJC Peachtree Road Race, as well as untimed race options and volunteer opportunities. Organizers expect more than 10,000 participants this year and hope to raise $700,000.
Reighard said he expects the new standalone MUST Marketplace to be the first of many. The idea was at least partially inspired by the book “Toxic Charity” by Robert “Bob” Lupton, a fellow Atlantan and founder of Focused Community Strategies.
“If you’re just handing out clothing in a bag in the back of a warehouse, you need to improve that experience and create what (Lupton) said was ‘parity, not charity,’” Reighard said.
The MUST Marketplace moves the non-profit’s store environment out of its Marietta headquarters and into a busy shopping center on Woodstock Road in East Cobb.
The attractive store is situated in a strip mall on Woodstock Road near a Movie Tavern and the Painted Tree, a large marketplace that holds a variety of boutique stalls. On its opening day, a steady trickle of customers browsed the well-organized clothing racks and the seasonal window displays featured Christmas decorations.
“I think it will result in us having multiple locations in the years ahead,” Reighard said of the new store. “We are absolutely thrilled to be in the East Cobb community. That program exists because of our amazing donors, and it’s incredible how many people send us clothing with the tags still on it, and we see it as giving a second chance to an awful lot of items.”
Reighard, recently named to Georgia Trend’s list of the state’s most influential leaders, touted MUST Ministries’ 100% score from Charity Navigator, an independent website that evaluates non-profits for their transparency and effectiveness. Reighard said MUST Ministries operates on just 9 cents of every dollar donated to it.
“We’re not going to be a hammock for people to be lazy, but we are a safety net to catch people,” Reighard said. “We just consider it our honor and privilege to be able to serve.”