Children outgrow their clothes quickly, and for parents on a limited income, it’s difficult to keep a child well dressed. God’s Closet — a nonprofit organization with a new chapter at the Redding church — helps families find clothes for their kids, while offering friendship and spiritual support. “It’s not a hand out; it’s a hand up,” said founder and organizer Merryl Tschoepe.
Each chapter of God’s Closet hosts four “free shop-day” events each year, when parents and grandparents can select gently used clothes for kids — newborn to age 18 — from a well-organized assortment of quality items. “Merryl is incredibly organized,” said Richard Seltzer, Redding church administrative assistant. “The set up is very professional, with signs on the tables, everything sorted by size and age, boys and girls, infants to teenagers.”
At the first free shop-day in Redding last May, almost 100 community families participated. In August, the second one attracted 250 families, and organizers expect the next event in November to double that amount. “I’ve been involved in a lot of [community outreach] programs, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such a positive response so quickly,” said Redding church Pastor Ron Cook. “People are so thankful.”
Tschoepe felt inspired to start God’s Closet years ago, when she received free second-hand clothes in good condition for her foster daughter. After she discovered that the program was only available for foster parents, she thought: “We need something like this for everybody!” As a result, God’s Closet was organized in 2009 at the Spokane church, where she was a member. The program quickly grew popular. One event attracted almost 600 people, and 45 people requested Bible studies. Upon seeing the Spokane church’s success, three other churches in Washington State also started chapters.
After learning that Tschoepe had moved to California, Redding church members were eager to start their own God’s Closet, following the pattern she established in Washington. Dates for the shop-days are set a year in advance so that organizers have time to gather donations from people and businesses. (In the Redding area, donations come from church members, students at Redding Adventist Academy, and several local children’s used clothing shops.) Organizers advertise events on social media and Craigslist, as well as in local churches, stores and community centers. Admission to each shop-day is $1 per family to cover various expenses.
One unique part of God’s Closet is its success in attracting volunteers to come the day before the shop-day to sort and organize. “We announce to the community that if they come and help us, they get a free bag of clothes,” said Tschoepe. She sees the volunteer program as an effective form of friendship evangelism. In August, more than 20 community women and men came to help — talking and laughing with church members and listening to Christian music. On future sorting days, Tschoepe plans to serve a meal to the volunteers, as she did in Washington.
Each church that hosts God’s Closet reaches out to its visitors in unique ways. During the August event, church members provided free haircuts, as well as childcare for toddlers, and a mini-Vacation Bible School program for kids ages 3-10. While the adults waited to go into the shopping area, each received a contact card offering Bible studies, prayer and more information about the church's children's programs. Sixteen people asked for Bible studies.
Tschoepe says her favorite part of the ministry is when mothers come up to her with tears in their eyes and say, “I am so blessed, because I needed these clothes, and I didn’t know where or how to get them.” Said Tschoepe: “Through God’s blessing, I am able to bless someone else.”
To find out more about starting a chapter of God’s Closet, visit www.godscloset.us or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.