Meet Tracey Pruess

RN Scheduler, Sanford Health

Tracey Pruess was scrolling through Facebook when she came across Closet 127. On the charity organization’s page was a post about volunteer hours to help sort household items and furniture.

That’s when Tracey decided to help meet a need in her community.

“I brought my girls along and we made it a family thing,” she says. “We started by organizing donated items to help the space look more like a store, which is one of their goals.”

The mission of Closet 127 is to provide furniture and household items to individuals and families who may be leaving an unhealthy situation or embarking on a new path in life. From arranging furniture to folding sheets and sorting baby items, volunteers place donations in designated areas before clients come into shop, although none of the items have price tags.

“By making it feel like a store when people pick up donations, it gives them more of a sense of dignity,” Tracey explains.

After first opening in a storage shed in Mandan, North Dakota, over the summer, Closet 127 quickly expanded to fill four more units before moving to a storefront in Bismarck.   

Outside a blue sign reads “…to look after orphans and widows in their distress… James 1:27.”

Anyone in need of support can visit the store or message Closet 127 on Facebook. Founder Rachael Howard then tries to connect each person with items that fit their needs.

“We just had someone come in who was leaving an abusive relationship and moving,” Tracey says. “Rachael was able to furnish their entire apartment.”

This isn’t the first apartment Closet 127 has helped furnish with gently used items – it’s more like the 75th.

“It’s just so crazy to think, that’s like an entire apartment complex,” says Tracey.

Besides coming in during volunteer hours to organize new donations, Tracey also finds other ways to help the store and those it serves. For Closet 127’s Christmas open house, Tracey and her two girls baked cookies and treats for a donation-based bake sale. At the end of the event, the treats that didn’t sell got packaged into Christmas baskets for the families Closet 127 was able to help in 2020.

“It was a win-win,” she says. “We got to raise money for their organization and also give back to the families we’ve helped.”

Most recently, Tracey reached out to area businesses and raised over $400 to help support Closet 127’s mission.

By having her daughters along when she volunteers, Tracey hopes the five- and one-year-old will grow up treating others with empathy and kindness.

“I want to teach them that you don’t know who’s going through a hard time, so you have to be kind to everyone,” she says.

Volunteering has led to new friendships for Tracey too. She often works alongside her fellow Sanford Health coworker and nurse Lisa Bannister while organizing items at the Closet 127 store.

“So you’re doing good things and hanging out with your friends,” she says.

Before her volunteering journey began, Tracey was a case manager at Sanford Health. She helped patients prepare to leave the hospital and made sure they had the tools and resources needed to start their recovery or transition back home.

Now with Closet 127, patients have a new resource.

“When I was a case manager, we didn’t have Closet 127,” she says. “Now there’s Rachael who often acts as the liaison for coordinating other resources, whether someone needs help from the Abused Adult Resource Center or social services, she can get them connected with whatever they need.”

Today, Tracey is a surgery scheduler for Sanford Health in Bismarck and helps on the COVID-19 unit. Through Closet 127, she’s still helping others successfully transition, but now it’s into homes furnished with comfort and encouragement.

“That definitely had a place in my heart, and I still get to fulfill that,” she says.