By Ashley Rader
A year ago, Pam Wilson suggested to her Ladies Sunday School Class at Lynn Valley Baptist Church that it should do a coat drive for those in need in the community.
That was the moment the Lynn Valley Clothes Closet was born.
There was not only a great response for the coats, but a need expressed for a year-round ministry that included other clothing, shoes, household items, bedding, towels, and even appliances.
Today, the Clothes Closet is open the first Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon in the church annex, next door to the church. However, the ladies spend two or three days a week getting ready for the monthly event. Together, the group collects and sorts the clothing. They make sure the clothing is clean and is displayed so those looking for a particular piece can easily find it. When the closet is open, they staff it, and if a customer needs assistance, they try to help.
The “free-to-shop” collection is open to anyone in need.
“It has been a great blessing,” said Debbie Heath, a member of the class. “It’s rewarding to see someone’s face light up when they find something they wanted or needed in our church clothes closet.”
“We had no idea the response would be as great as it has been. It has turned into a wonderful ministry for our church. It’s amazing that when a need arises, it’s always met,” said Martha Hardin, who with Kay Heaton heads up the ministry. “Someone will share a need, and the next thing you know, when you open a bag, there will be the requested item.”
“God always provides,” Heaton echoed. “Whatever goes out, that much and more comes in. Because we are blessed with donations, we are able to share with other organizations in the community,” she shared.
Viki Harrell, another member of the class, noted that the class has not only received a blessing from participating in the clothes closet, but it has been fun as well. “Over and over we have seen that you cannot outgive God,” she said, sharing that he clothes closet is a great way, not only for the congregation, but the community to donate unwanted items to those who have a need for them.
“For the most part, the donated items are items that are of good quality and are useable and wearable. This is a very generous community. We often get new items with the tags still on them,” said Hardin.
“We accept used items, but when giving, the zippers should work and all the buttons be in place,” she added.
While the group does not keep statistics on the number of people served, the ladies have seen an increase in the number of people coming to the closet.
Harrell noted that some of those who receive the items, when they can, return the favor that was given to them. “If the clothes are still wearable, they will bring them back, and oftentimes they will give us one or two dollars for what they take. They give out of their poverty,” she said. “Often, you see them wipe a tear from their eye.”
The ladies not only staff the clothes closet and do all the preparation for its opening each month, but they listen to the many people who visit. “We not only try to take care of their physical needs, but we try to befriend them and share with them God’s love. We want the clothes closet to be a positive experience for those visiting it,” said Heaton.
“It’s just a wonderful feeling to serve others,” Heath said. “Even when we sort, we don’t think of it as work. It’s a pleasure to do our work.”
It’s not unusual to have a hundred people to show up each time the clothes closet is open. “We stay open until the last person is served. We’ve had as many as 30 people to come at one time,” said Harrill.
“We’ve not seen a slow month since we opened,” Heaton said.
The ministry has also expanded to include other people in the church, who help with the sorting and often show up on the day the clothes closet is open to offer their services.
“We not only help those who come with their clothes selections, but if a mother comes with her children, we will babysit them while she looks. We also provide refreshments for them,” Harrill added.
Before opening the clothes closet each month, the women usually meet for devotions, and now are walking a lap around the church to energize them before they get started. “It has brought us closer together, and it has been a real blessing to all of us,” said Heaton.
Harrill added, “It helps us with our “up-and-down days.”