Old Town Noblesville resident Glenn Conn, with the help of co-founders Marie Marks and Hilary Ricks, started Marilyn’s Place Non-Food Pantry on South Eighth Street in Noblesville last summer.
For Conn, it has been a way to help others in need because someone once helped him.
“I’ve been homeless myself and been in need a number of years ago,” said Conn, 68, who still has the warm leather jacket that he was given during a low point in his life. “I knew then I wanted to pay it forward some day … Literally, I woke up one day and said, ‘Why not have a non-food pantry?’
Marilyn’s Place is a place where people in need can go to get quality of life necessities, like personal hygiene products, cleaning supplies, and appropriate clothing for school, work or the weather.
It’s a place where people in need can receive a “hand up” so they’ll have a better chance at “a brighter tomorrow.”
It’s also a place where Conn is making a difference.
Since opening in August, Marilyn’s Place has provided aid to 49 families or groups, including 110 individuals, 45 children under the age of 18, 48 women and 22 adults over the age of 50. Of these families or groups, 19, or about 38 percent have returned for more assistance.
“Our clients have included persons experiencing homelessness, retired, on social security and/or disability, recently incarcerated or on work-release, veterans, single parents, and those unemployed or under-employed,” Conn said. “And our client base just keeps growing each week.”
But now, Conn said Marilyn’s Place needs help keeping the doors open.
He said, “We're quite proud of what we've been able to accomplish in just a few short months but like many nonprofits, we've also experienced many difficulties. Being entirely donation-based, we have not been able to meet all of our operating costs, and are now in jeopardy of losing our lease. We are facing a deadline of May 1, 2021, to bring all of our outstanding debts up to date.”
Conn contacted me to offer any help or publicity that I could provide, to get the word out to the community.
He said the initial business plan was “relatively the same as many other struggling nonprofits that aren’t fortunate enough to have some type of income base: monetary donations, holding a number of benefits and fundraisers each year, selling items on our website through our ‘Donate to Sell’ program, our ‘Marilyn’s Place Marketplace’ program, and by applying for local, regional and federal grants.
Conn, who already spent a portion of his retirement savings on the building’s rent, said, “At this point, we are soliciting monetary donations to pay all of our rent past due, and bring us up to date. We have started a gofundme.com (for) Marilyn's Place) and persons can also donate on our website.”
He said the landlord was already kind to freeze the rent for a period of time due to COVID-19.
Conn said the space is perfect. “We just love our location and our first choice would be to remain there but we are now four months in arrears for a total of $6,600.”
But he isn’t opposed to moving to a new location. “We would welcome the opportunity to be offered a lease at a substantially lesser amount or even rent free. And we would be interested in relocating, if necessary.”
Conn shared positive stories that have come out of Marilyn’s Place since its opening. Last Christmas season, he said, “We had numerous clients able to provide their children with new clothes, shoes, coats, snow boots, robes, sleepwear, toys, stuffed animals, and other items as gifts. Many told us that we had just made their holiday so much brighter, and they were able to provide gifts they normally wouldn't have been able to afford. We also happened to have some Christmas trees and lights donated to us and there were those that told us this would be their first tree because they just couldn't afford to buy one.”
Marilyn’s Place also assists individuals who have been incarcerated or on work-release. “So many of these individuals are simply seeking a fresh start in life and have very little in the way of possessions and have expressed much appreciation for what we can do for them,” Conn said.
“Many of our clients are on social security, disability or both. Trying to survive on a fixed income is extremely difficult and many of these individuals have told us of their appreciation to be able to use their limited funds for more important matters, such as rent, food, and medicines,” he said.
Conn shared another story that helped in just the last few days, a story that warmed his heart. “A client just contacted me about her need for a formal dress to attend a wedding … She reached out to us because she could not afford to purchase something to wear, and told us she would not be able to attend the wedding unless she could find something to wear. We quickly made arrangements for her to come in, and hopefully we can find something for her. We've decided to not charge her any allotted points. Any and all nice dresses or formal wear we can provide for her will be free and clear, as to our point-based allotment system. It's the least we can do.” Conn said, “Special circumstances like these are what we, at Marilyn's Place, are all about. “
He named Marilyn’s Place Non-Food Pantry after his late mother, Marilyn Conn. “She was always very supportive of me,” said Conn of the nonprofit.
On the day that I met Conn last summer, he sported a green Bob “Marley” T-shirt and wire-rim eye glasses and wore his blondish-white hair straight to his shoulders. He smiled behind his orange and green plaid face mask as he proudly invited me to step inside Marilyn’s Place at 1106 S. Eighth St., just 11 blocks south of the Hamilton County Courthouse Square. (He usually rides his bicycle from home; that’s one of the reasons he likes the location) The space is set up like a retail store and offers clients “as close to a normal shopping experience as possible,” including a budget and freedom of choice of what to buy. The large room is full of non-food items, from toothpaste to laundry soap and dress shoes to school and work attire (great for job interviews). But no money exchanges hands. Clients, who are at the poverty level or below, can qualify by completing a request for why they need assistance, and then the qualifying clients use points, based on the number of family members, to buy items there.
Conn founded Marilyn’s Place thanks to the help of his co-founders, cousin Marie Marks, treasurer, and retired criminal-defense attorney Hilary Ricks, the nonprofit’s vice president. He found Ricks when he put a call-out for prospective board members in a local newspaper. She was born in Syracuse, N.Y., and grew up in New Palestine and has worked for and volunteered for nonprofits.
Conn, who holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology, brings with him 50 years of experience in social work, at Hoosier Hills Food Bank, Community Kitchen of Monroe County, Martha’s House, a homeless shelter, and founder of an artists cooperative. He also brings experience in retail operations, including eight years in receiving at Sears and more than four years processing returns at Cabela's. “My background has really helped,” he said.
Conn created this nonprofit because he wanted to do something for his community.
While Hamilton County is ranked second in per-capita income in Indiana and has one of the lowest poverty rates in the nation, there are still 12,000 to 16,000 residents trying to live on a household income at or below the poverty level, Conn said.
There are plenty of food pantries in the county, but not a place where those in need could get non-food items. The nonprofit received its designation in 2019.
“We bit off a big chunk. Starting one from scratch is a whole new ballgame,” Ricks has said. “... We’ve self-funded along the way, fundraisers, doing social media, written the trustees offices. It’s taken a long time.”
Conn did some renovating to the space before Marilyn’s Place moved into the former location of Bill’s Dirty Dog Spaw. Their original goal was to open before Christmas in 2019 but then 2020 arrived, and COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic happened.
The nonprofit has received a lot of walk-in traffic and requests for assistance.
Any monetary donations will go toward keeping the doors open to Marilyn’s Place.

-Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com.