Stallsville Clothes Closet helps neighbors with new ministry
By Jessica Brodie
SUMMERVILLE—Sunlight streams through the wide glass windows of the spacious room as shoppers pick through items, their faces lit with smiles as they chat.
“Oooh, cute!” exclaims one, holding up a dress.
“You should get that!” another tells her.
They giggle, admiring each other’s choices. The atmosphere is warm, cozy, like any clothing shop—only this is no regular shop.
It’s the Stallsville Clothes Closet, a monthly ministry in the fellowship hall at Stallsville United Methodist Church, where everything is free, everybody is welcome and the volunteers strive to make everyone a regular.
Once a month, typically the last Friday from 10 a.m. to noon, a team of volunteers gather to transform the vast space into a sea of high-quality goods, everything from baby to adult clothing as well as housewares and children’s toys.
“We really try to make it like a shopping experience,” said volunteer Sharon Barr, a member of the church since 2001 who loves helping at the Clothes Closet. Grinning as she heads off to help a shopper, “I have a lady on her third bag. I’m so happy!”
Everywhere you look, volunteers and shoppers mill about, teasing each other or chatting lightly. One volunteer pushes an older man in a wheelchair as he browses the household items. Everyone knows each other’s names, and volunteers often set aside special items for regulars—like the dress pants they found last week for Mr. Bennett. He’s been looking for some in his size, 44x30, for months.
“He’s so excited,” says Trudy Easton with a smile, motioning as he shops. “He comes every month, and we finally found some in his size.”
Easton, outreach coordinator for church, said the Clothes Closet grew out of a project the church did with the Epworth Lowcountry Foster Care Program. Members maintained a resource room for them, where foster families could come to get needed supplies. But soon they realized the surrounding community needed clothing and other items, too. During Lent, the church did a Bible study, Rick Warren’s “40 Days in the Word,” and the study encouraged groups to pick a ministry to adopt and participate in.
Kathy Belsky and her husband Rod, were among those who participated, and they decided to select the Clothes Closet, which had recently started through Easton’s efforts.
With the extra volunteer help, not to mention their passion and excitement, “It’s just flourished,” Belsky said.
“I’ve seen miracles happen in here,” said volunteer Suzanne Randall. “The second month we were open, a lady came in. Looking through, she found some things, picked out three or four items, then asked, ‘How much?’”
Randall told her everything was free.
“She looked at me and just started crying,” Randall said, her face lighting with the memory. “You feel like you’re actually helping people.”
Fellow volunteer Sherry Rebeck nods.
“That’s what surprises people the most—we say ‘take it all.’ The look on their face is like, seriously?”
Donations are collected throughout the month and packed into a storage room, and on Thursdays, volunteers gather to sort the items so the volume does not become overwhelming. Then the day before the closet, they gather to bring all the items out, set up tables, sort everything by size, and get ready for the next morning.
A table greets shoppers, where they collect names and information and get to know those who come. Easton said many come directly from the food bank at nearby Knightsville UMC, a sister church that steers clients to the Clothes Closet after they get free food items.
“We get a great turnout—15 families per month on average, like one lady who has six kids, a husband and wife, a mom and her daughter,” Easton said. “It’s turned out to be a marvelous ministry and really goes beyond the walls of the church.”
They try to make the atmosphere feel homey and comfortable for the shoppers, and each month they add special touches, such as a full-length mirror or a chair so people can try on shoes.
“We want people not to be in a rush to leave, to stay and shop,” Easton said.
Randall agrees. “We try to make it a nice experience for people.”
Stallsville pastor the Rev. Rob Rabenstein said he truly appreciates what his congregation is doing. He came to Stallsville in July and loves seeing his church reach out to others in the name of Jesus.
“The need is out there, and every month we seem to touch more of the neighborhood,” Rabenstein said. “This is a wonderful way to do what we need to do.
“It’s about being a presence in the community and loving your neighbor—there’s no theology here.”
Rod Belsky agreed. “It’s our way of reaching out to the community. That’s what Jesus wants us to do.”