816 North

Stylish charity offers warmth, comfort and dignity

Volunteer Danny Schroder sorts through the men’s coats at Clothes Closet. Coats are very much in demand this time of year.
Volunteer Danny Schroder sorts through the men’s coats at Clothes Closet. Coats are very much in demand this time of year. Special to The Star

Ten-year-old Anthony Capielo was excited after his visit to the Clay County Clothes Closet.

“I got a lot of shirts and stuff. I even got a free kite,” he said as he sat with his dad in the waiting room of the small house that holds the non-profit.

“I always wanted a kite. It’s like a dream come true.”

“It’s all free — that’s what makes it great,” he added.

Anthony’s family visited the Clothes Closet for clothes they needed but couldn’t afford.

His father, Louis Capielo, admitted that it was nice to get clothes for himself. “Before, the kids were always first, but I got some stuff.”

The Clothes Closet is a store where nobody pays and everybody serves, said Debbie Bigelow, volunteer executive director.

“We want to give these families, dignity, self respect and hope.”

The Clothes Closet was started by Church Women United of Clay County 57 years ago. Its first location was in the basement of a drugstore.

That year it served about 125 families. Already this year, it has served 2,034 people — up 10 percent from last year. In total, about 90,000 have received free clothing from the non-profit since it started.

Bigelow, a retired project manager, oversees 100 volunteers and a $53,000 budget. More than $40,000 in in-kind donations also comes in from churches, businesses and individuals who donate new and used clothing to the Clothes Closet.

“Without those donations, there’s no way we could sustain serving the number of people we do,” Bigelow said.

“There’s a higher power looking out for Clay County Clothes Closet.”

At the end of November, Antioch Community Church donated 100 new coats.

Antioch has also donated underwear and money for a total of about $3,350 in donations this year.

Lee Jeans donates approximately $25,000 worth of new jeans each year.

“We absolutely couldn’t do it without these donations. We wouldn’t be able to give the new items,” Bigelow said.

Needy families are referred to the Clothes Closet by agencies, churches and schools. Appointments are made with volunteer scheduler Gail Snyder for either a Tuesday or a Saturday when the Clothes Closet is open. Volunteers assist each person individually to “shop” for just the right clothes. Everybody goes home with a bag full of clothing.

“I see the smiles when they come back with a large bag of clothes they can hardly lift,” Snyder said. “We get hugs, we get ‘Thank you. Thank you so much, you’ve really helped me.’ It doesn’t take very much for me to be happy, and those smiles are so satisfying.”

Anthony left a bag full of clothes, which included a coat — something he was particularly grateful for.

“My jacket was all messed up and it’s going to get cold,” he said.

In a room down the hall, Anthony’s 9-year-old sister, Sophia, tries on a red plaid dress with ruffles on the skirt.

“I really like it,” she says clapping her hands. “I will wear this at Christmas.”

In another wing of the Clothes Closet, Steve Gugler holds 6-week-old Jovan Littlejohn while his mother, Javin Littlejohn, chooses clothes.

She is in need of clothes for the fast-growing baby, as well as herself.

“I can’t fit in my clothes,” said the new mom. “I need jeans. I need all of it.”

The volunteers are “pretty awesome” she says.

Two volunteers, Jan Wiley-Sammon and Carolyn Kelsey, have served the Clothes Closet for more than 50 years; and the oldest volunteer is 100. At least 25 volunteers are needed each time the Clothes Closet is open to work with the families, sort, size and stock.

As a volunteer, we’re blessed by the work that we are able to do,” Bigelow said. “We get more out of it than we put into it every week.

“I can have a bad day and go into the Clothes Closet and work with the people who come in there, and my whole day is turned around. Because you take yourself out of it and what’s going on in your life when you’re helping other people.”

For more information

▪ To donate: Clothing donations can be taken to the Clay County Clothes Closet location at 3939 N. Cleveland, Kansas City, North, and left in a small donation building behind the Clothes Closet

▪ Most needed items: 1X to 5X clothing for men and women, clothes for children, new socks, infants’ clothing, and new underwear for everyone

▪ For information or to volunteer: www.clothescloset.org or contact Bigelow at 816-216-0057. Call the Clay County Clothes Closet at 816-454-3960 or email ccclothescloset@gmail.com.