How Does Clothing Ministry Fill the Need?

Jenny Jaroneski   -  

By: Jenny Jaroneski, Social Ministry Associate

I know when I think about clothing banks or closets, I think about the thrift stores run by local non-profit organizations such as The Salvation Army, Grace Centers of Hope or St. Vincent De Paul. I think of racks and racks of clothing that have been donated and are available for purchase. I’ve found a few great steals and neat things to wear on those racks for reasonable prices. I’ve also found absolutely nothing to add to my closet after a shopping trip.

I know I am guilty of thinking of all clothing closets the same way that I view those thrift stores. Dresses, pants, business wear, formal wear, shoes, wedding dresses and so on line the racks and shelves. But when we look at a clothing closet to meet the needs of our homeless community, it looks quite a bit different than that thrift store. An emergency clothing closet is filled with socks, underwear, long johns, jeans, t-shirts, sweat shirts, rain gear, winter boots and sleeping bags.

But why does it look different when it’s an emergency clothing shelter? Well… the answer lays in who is receiving the clothing.

Issue #1 – The Weight of it All:

What is the difference between my closet in my home, and someone who doesn’t have a home? It seems so obvious to realize… they are living out of a bag. But have you ever packed for a trip? How many clothes can you get inside that bag? And how often do you have to move or carry that bag? I can’t even imagine the size bag I would need to tote around my two dressers and half of the closet. The less a person has to carry or move on a regular basis, the easier life is for them. Unfortunately, that means that clothing options and wardrobe changes are in limited supply.

Issue #2 – Cleaning Up:

Why is there such a large need for clothing and why do we provide the same clothes to the same people so often? If you are as fortunate as I am, you likely have a washer and dryer in your home with running water and electricity. At the end of the day, you get home from work and you change into “comfortable” clothes tossing your items from the day into the laundry. So what do you do when your clothing items are limited and you don’t have the ability to clean them? They become disposable. Clothing is worn until it is soiled or damaged beyond repair, and discarded when clean clothing becomes available from a clothing closet.

Issue #3 – Truancy Troubles:

For many children, school is a place where they learn, have friends, eat breakfast and lunch and are able to grow and have fun. But what about going to school only having a few pairs of clothes to wear? It becomes a source of embarrassment and reason for being bullied. One of the key indicators to teachers that children might be in trouble is their clothing condition. If children are coming to school in soiled clothes or the same clothes every day, it often gets social workers involved and there are often many more hardships that these students face. While these teachers and social workers do their very best to make sure children are in safe environments, many families are scared of children being placed in alternative living arrangements. Rather than going to school in dirty clothing, children are kept at home or skip school and miss out on an important opportunity for education.

Issue #4 – Rock‘em Sock‘em:

Socks are one of the most requested items out of the clothing closet. Why are socks so important?

  • 30 Minutes – Time it takes to get frostbite in sub-zero temperatures.
  • Wet socks breed bacteria which cause infection.
  • More than 1 million Americans have diabetes, putting them at greater risk of skin injury, infection and even amputation.
  • Many homeless walk several miles daily to gain access to food, shelter and other essentials.
  • Access to assistance is easier to get to when your feet are healthy and free from blisters.

Even if clothing isn’t able to be changed daily, socks need to be changed more often to keep feet healthy.

After considering these points, it seems logical now why clothing is cycled through so frequently. It also means that our clothing closet has specific needs on a seasonal basis to be able to offer our neighbors in need. A full wardrobe isn’t what will solve the problem. Key items that are durable, warm (or cool in summer months) and clean will fulfill the needs of homeless individuals in our community.

Why is it important to clothe our neighbors? Scripture tells us to! When we offer goods to the community in need, we form relationships and witness to them. We share the love of Jesus with those who need it most.

Matthew 25: 35-40

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’