Many churches collect clothing donations to distribute to people in need. Some start full-blown thrift shops, and charge a small amount for clothing. Most thrift shops are self-supporting and some even make enough to hire a manager. Other churches do not wish to charge for clothing at all and their goal is to be a clothing distribution center, or simply to take in donations and act as a hub between donors and people in need.
An organizational group needs to meet decide on a plan of operation for the clothing distribution center. This group must decide on the purpose for the center and a manager for the day-to-day operations. The group should brainstorm all activities needed to run the center, break the activities into tasks and subtasks, and decide who is responsible for each. Finally, the group should create a timeline for completion of the tasks, and arrange to meet regularly to monitor the progress toward completion.
Obtain a space for the distribution center. Space is required to display clothing on racks, tables and shelves for easy access. The most common mistake of new clothing centers is not allowing enough back room space for donations and sorting. A 1,000 square foot display area may need at least an additional 200 square feet for storing and sorting donations. Also remember that many hours must be devoted to sorting through the clothing, discarding what cannot be used, tagging and hanging what can be used.
Arrange the space for the center with traffic flow in mind. Ease of entry while carrying bulky items is necessary and the display area is usually divided into men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, and further divided by sizes. A separate section for infants is often provided, and may include some car seats, diaper bags and strollers in addition to clothing.
Clothing racks can often be obtained at a reasonable price from stores that are closing out, or they can be constructed fairly easily by a volunteer church member who has basic carpentry skills.
Ask for donations for publicity with roadside signs, local shopper’s guides, and do not forget flyers, emails and church bulletin announcements. Once the word is out, the problem often becomes that you have too many donations to process. People will also want to donate washing machines, sofas and other furniture, but unless you have a great deal of space and many volunteers, a clothing distribution center should refer those bulky donations elsewhere.
The manager will have to wear many hats. The manager will be responsible to oversee day-to-day operations, as well as recruit, train and schedule volunteers. Managers will be responsible to maintain safety and follow the church and ministry policies that have been established. In addition, they will have to publicize the need for donations, arrange for donors and volunteers to be thanked, and represent the ministry at any meetings with other social service agencies. Any of these tasks can be delegated to volunteers, but the manager is still responsible to train and monitor the volunteers' activities.
Decide if you will allow walk-ins or only accept referrals from other helping agencies. The advantage to taking referrals is that the other agency has screened the person already and established that there really is a need.