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Spring break for a cause: Florida woman organizes clothing drive for Superior thrift

by AMY QUINLIVAN
Mineral Independent | April 17, 2024 12:00 AM

Spring break for college students is typically mid to late March. For the most part, it’s the disreputable week of jet-setting to warm weather locations, for young adults to decompress from their bookwork by engaging in some risky and questionable behavior.

Most of these activities take place in locations like Florida. So, it came as quite a surprise when one undergraduate from the Sunshine State opted to spend her spring break traveling to Montana instead with very a generous load of winter clothing for the Women in Timber Thrift Store in Superior.

Lauren Widman attends Northwest Florida State College, and though she may be a resident down near the sandy beaches, her heart has always found a home in Montana. 

“I live in Destin, Florida, but my family lives in Montana and Washington. We love the area, so we try to fly up to Montana as often as possible. My grandparents live in St. Regis, so we love rafting, having bonfires and going on scenic drives.”

The other thing she enjoys most is thrifting with her grandma, Penny Fish, from St. Regis. 

Widman remarked, “I started this project because I realized that I have so many winter clothes that I do not wear. Living in Florida, I only need warm clothing for a few weeks out of the entire year. My grandma and I love thrift stores, it is our favorite way to bond.”

When her grandmother told Widman that Women in Timber is always accepting donations, she knew what needed to be done. 

“This was instilled in me through my grandma and I's shared love of thrift stores," she said. "Thrift stores are the backbone of our communities. They sell clothing for low prices, give away food, and hand out scholarships to local students."

Widman had a vision to collect warm coats and clothing items, to bring north. She developed a website for her mission and called it The Big Sky Project. She realized that the majority of her closet was composed of sweaters and sweatshirts, which hardly get used. 

Widman stated, "I knew that I was not the only one with this dilemma, so I decided to take action.”

“I decided to donate the clothing to the Women in Timber Thrift Store of Superior, Montana, because my grandma had told me about their desire for more donations from the community. Thrift stores do so much more than just sell clothes. They use their profits to provide the community with food, beds, scholarships and more,” exclaimed Widman.

She received 115 pairs of jeans, 51 jackets, and 84 other clothing items. Her goal was to collect 100 pairs of jeans and 20 jackets, and it is safe to say The Big Sky Project was successful.

Widman had never done a project to this extent, but she has clocked over 130 volunteer hours at her local thrift store in Florida. 

“I love sorting through clothes, working as a cashier, and helping with food drives I began volunteering at the store because we had some friends there, but I ended up loving it," she said.

Widman and her brother made the journey to Montana during their spring break to transport half of the collected items. 

“It is super busy during spring break, so a lot of locals try to leave and go up north to beat the crowds, but the purpose of this trip was to see my family and deliver the 250 warm clothing donations,” she detailed.

They stayed with her grandparents for about a week and a half. 

Widman said, “Actually, my grandpa was on a cross-country road trip from Florida to Washington and kindly took the first load of 134 warm clothing donations to Montana. My grandma kept them at her house for about a month until my family arrived.” 

She and her brother then flew to Spokane and checked two large suitcases full of the rest of the donations, 116 items. They each weighed about 50 pounds.

The thoughtful donations will be gladly used here in Montana, and the ladies at Women in Timber were delighted when Widman arrived on March 16 with the hefty load.

This was not Widman’s first time coming to Montana. She has been traveling here for as long as she can remember. 

She mentioned, “Glacier National Park is a family favorite. I have such great memories here, and I wouldn't change anything. I am so happy that my family lives in such a beautiful state.”

As for another endeavor like The Big Sky Project, Widman is undecided. 

“If I do it again, it will be closer to my hometown," she said. "I have considered starting a clothing drive for my elementary school. For now, I will just continue helping out at my local thrift store.”
 

“These days, it is so important to invest in your communities. I believe that if someone cannot donate material items, they can donate their time!”

Coming to Montana may not be a Spring Break hotspot, but for Widman, her trip was fulfilling and relaxing. 

“Of course, I live in a tourist town, so it is fun to get away from the crowds," she said. "It is really busy when universities like Auburn, Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia let out for break. For my spring break, we visited a bison range, went to Missoula to shop, and went to our family's farm. It was great!” 

To read more about the process of Widman’s undertaking, you can visit her blog at www.thebigskyproject.blogspot.com.

    Lauren Widman stands with Kathy Verley, the manager of Women in Timber after the large haul of donations was brought into the store back in March. (Photo courtesy/Lauren Widman)