It’s just a tiny house sandwiched between Immanuel Baptist Church on the east and Fire Station No. 4 on the west. But what a blessing it is to those who are in need.
Though small, the two-story dwelling at 124 W. 23rd St. is spacious enough to house the Immanuel Baptist Clothes Closet, whose mission is “making people happy” by providing free clothing – including coats, sweaters and shoes, as well as back-to-school needs and miscellaneous items – to those in need.
The Clothes Closet has been an ongoing mission project since Immanuel purchased the red house next door and converted it into a pantry that serves hundreds of people a year.
Operated by some eight to 10 faithful volunteers, the Closet has been “tremendously successful” since it opened its doors in August 2001. Hours are 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and Fridays, and 9 to 11 a.m. on the first Saturday of each month.
“We average between 35 and 40 people each day we are open,” says Alice Jackson, a five- to six-year volunteer, who recently met at the Closet – before it opened – with volunteers Ila Hazelrigg, Arlene Martz, Mary Anne Berrey and Louis Jackson.
Shoppers are limited to one visit per week and can take up to 30 items at a time, Alice says. However, only 15 items can be taken when merchandise is low.
The Closet also has another use. It is used to minister to those who come through the front door and register. All are welcome. No questions asked.
“We share Jesus when we can, and invite them to church,” says Ila Hazelrigg. Then there are those times, she says, when shoppers facing hard times or the death of a loved one or perhaps an impending surgery ask the caring volunteers to pray for them.
The Clothes Closet also is a place of refuge for the lonely.
“We have had women who basically came over here to sit and visit a little bit because they are lonely,” Alice says. “Sometimes it’s a matter of listening.”
Since there are no shopping restrictions at the Closet, Ila says one might find someone looking for an outfit to wear to a job interview. Or one might find a once-homeless person looking for clothing to wear to a new job.
“In the wintertime, we have a lot of construction and outdoor workers come in for heavy clothing,” she says.
“And in the last couple of weeks, (students) have been coming in for suits and dresses for graduation and prom,” interjects Arlene Martz, the sister of Alice Jackson.
All the volunteers agree: God has richly blessed the Closet since its inception nearly 10 years ago.
Alice remembers those times when the Closet was low on men’s clothing and miscellaneous items. Before the racks and shelves were depleted, donations would suddenly come in.
“So God provides things sometimes when we need them,” she says, noting the Closet also gets donations that no one knows what they are.
Then the miraculous often happens.
“Someone will come in and say, ‘That is exactly what I am looking for,’” says Alice, then adds: “It’s amazing sometimes that people come in and find exactly what they are look for ... like a breast pump.”
Alice doesn’t believe in happenstance.
“To me, it has to be God providing these things because they came to (the Closet) on the same day (the buyers) were here.”
Are there any differences between Immanuel’s Clothes Closet and other closets in the community?
Ila is quick to respond.
“(Shoppers) tells us that we keep (our closet) cleaner, more organized and we hang (clothing on hangers.)”
Soiled clothing is laundered before being hung on the racks next to “a lot of new clothing.”
Don’t come to the Closet looking for beds, sofas, chairs, dressers or large kitchen appliances. There is just no space to display them.
Alice says she tells donors to give anything that “little old ladies can handle.”
But don’t be surprised if you run across a wedding gown, expensive purses and jewelry, computers, TVs, prom dresses and possibly a silver tea setting, as well as brand-name merchandise. All of these items have passed through the Closet over the years.
The hardest items to keep on the shelves are towels, wash cloths, blankets, clothing for 3-year-old boys and girls and children’s jeans, socks and underwear.
When volunteers are not on the floor assisting shoppers and answering their questions, they are usually busy sorting new donations and restocking them.
Arlene Martz says the extra hours she spends at the Closet depends on donations.
She remembers when there were so many donations being sorted in the basement of the six-room house that she spent four hours sorting “just to find space to walk.”
Then she adds: “Alice spends a lot of time (four to six hours) up here sorting and getting things organized.”
Yes, the volunteers will tell you it’s hard work moving large, heavy plastic bags filled with all sorts of merchandise.
And, yes, at times, they get tired, hot and sweaty. But love motivates them, they say, to keep going on, doing the work God has called them to do.
What a blessing it is, even if it means unloading a handicap bus filled with miscellaneous items from the floor to the ceiling.
Using an assembly line technique, “It took us an hour to unload the bus,” Arlene recalls. “There was a young kid unloading the bus and setting things on the lift. Then there was a guy carrying (items) from the lift to me. I was sliding (them) down the basement steps to two people, and then there were two guys carrying stuff around to the front.”
And that was just one load.
“A lot of times it is three or four bags of clothes ... I mean these big bags ... which is fine, but they are heavy and they come in full,” Alice says with a chuckle.
The Clothes Closet couldn’t operate if it weren’t for the support of the community – especially the faith community. Knowing the Closet takes donations, Alice says churches will ask “if we can come and clean up” after garage sales.
The Fairmount Community Center is another big supporter. Every year it gives the Closet everything that doesn’t sell at its annual garage sale.
“We ended up getting at least six carloads of things and many bus loads of things (from the center), Alice recalls.
The Closet also reaches out to the community.
“When we get a big supply of things, we reach out to other organizations to help people,” she says. “Last week we gave close to 300 items to True Life Ministries in Kansas City.”
The Closet also supports Operation Breakthrough, Pleasant Heights low-income housing, various employment groups, the Fairmount Community Center and others.
If you would like to know more about the Closet or to make donations, call Immanuel Baptist at 816-254-9579.
Thanks, volunteers, for your servant’s heart. You all have made the Closet a beacon of love, hope and light in Independence. Keep up the good work.