DuBOIS — Twice a year, the DuBois Alliance Church would invite chaos upon itself. Twice a year, scores of people would flock to the church’s gymnasium where folding tables had been piled high with clothing that volunteers spent months collecting and sorting, clothing that the church was giving away for free.
Once inside, they were given cardboard boxes they could fill as they saw fit. What regularly ensued was described by volunteers as resembling a retail store on Black Friday. More than a hundred people at a time would shove their way past each other to pick the place apart.
And when they all departed a few hours later, mountains of clothes would yet remain.
“It was exhausting,” Donna Shaffer said. “We’d work for three or four months up here for four hours. And then we’d have all this clothing leftover that you knew people could use, and we had no room to store it. So we had to ship it out to Goodwill.”
Last fall was the last time that the church’s collection efforts would culminate in such a fashion. Last spring, volunteers had an idea of how the clothes they were sorting once again might more easily be distributed to those in need.
Upstairs, in what were once the church’s Sunday school classrooms, that idea is taking shape. They’re calling it the Clothes Closet, and it more resembles a quiet thrift shop than a Black Friday fracas.
Gone are the folding tables, replaced instead by clothing racks, some of which Shaffer said she purchased from the Kmart in DuBois when it closed last year. Men’s, women’s and children’s clothing each have a separate room to hang in.
As before, the clothes are still completely free. But rather than giving them away twice a year, volunteers now staff the Clothes Closet every Wednesday night.
There are a few caveats: you have to make an appointment before you go; you can only visit one night each month; and you can only take with you what you can fit inside the box you are given.
“Some people think that’s an annoyance or a pain, but I think the ones that really need clothes are willing to make the appointment to come up,” Shaffer said.
So far, volunteers said, the new system appears to be working more smoothly. There are typically only a few appointments each week and the pace is less frenzied.
The overflow clothing, Shaffer said, can be sold to Goodwill, putting money in the church’s pockets for its youth programs.
“And this meets more needs than doing it twice a year,” Shelley Fremer, another volunteer, said.
The Closet accepts and offers only gently used clothing and, importantly, does not take anything other than clothing. The greatest need volunteers said they see right now is for more menswear and children’s clothing.
“Men wear their clothes until they’re wore out,” Shaffer said. “And we don’t keep wore-out stuff.”
The church had held winter coat drives in the past, but full-blown clothing giveaways weren’t organized until church member Zac Wilcox spurred the effort on a few years ago.
“I had a sister that was homeless for a good part of her life,” Wilcox said. “That was part of my motivation behind it.”
Wilcox is, for his part, bashful about his involvement, and said it is the other volunteers who ran with the idea. He does play an important role in the new operation, though, helping people interested in visiting the Closet to make appointments.
What appears to keep the volunteers coming back is a sense of camaraderie. They’ve spent many a Friday night sorting through clothes together and catching up with each other.
“That was our Friday night fun,” Fremer said. “We’d come here.”
Of course, helping those in need is its own reward. Several Closet patrons, Shaffer said, have even started attending church and other programs at Alliance.
“That’s a good feeling,” she said. “They’re so thankful.”
The Clothes Closet is located at the DuBois Alliance Church at 1004 S. Main St., DuBois, and is open Wednesday by appointment from 6-8 p.m. Anyone interested in making a donation or scheduling an appointment, can call the church’s main office at 371-7471.