How to Start a Church Clothing Closet

by Molly Thompson

Imagine a food pantry stocked with socks, shirts, coats and mittens instead of canned vegetables, spaghetti sauce and cereal. That's a church clothes closet in a nutshell. If your church has determined that your community needs a place where donated new or gently-used clothing is available for those in need, setting up a clothes closet may be the perfect option.

Draft a proposal for the clothes closet and its operation. If possible, visit other church clothes closets to get ideas and learn best practices.

Present the proposal to the appropriate authorities at your church to obtain approval to begin working on the clothes closet ministry program. Be sure your proposal clearly identifies the need in the community and specifies exactly what the church's commitment to this new ministry will be. Be prepared to answer questions from trustees or other church leaders, and to make modifications to your proposal, if necessary, to meet their concerns.

Obtain any necessary permits or approvals from city or county officials, if these are needed for the operation of the clothes closet. This may not be necessary if you are operating within already-approved church facilities.

Gather a group of volunteers who are committed to the project and willing to help get it started and keep it running. Develop the closet's policies, such as days and times of operation, any requirements for eligibility, limits on visit frequency or amount of clothing that can be obtained during visits or whether any costs will be assessed to the visitors. Assign tasks to various volunteers so no one individual ends up doing everything herself.

Identify the location to house your church clothes closet. This may be a room at the church or the local community center, or even a storage shed on the church grounds. Clean it out, paint and decorate it if necessary, and outfit it with clothing racks and shelving. Ensure you have sufficient light for visitors to look over the clothing. If space permits, set up a separate small room or curtained-off nook, equipped with a mirror, for people to try on clothes.

Request donations of new or gently-used clothing from the congregation or others in the community interested in helping with this ministry. As donations begin coming in, volunteers need to sort, clean and organize the clothing.

Stock the clothes closet with the donations. Organize the items into broad categories, such as women's, men's and children's clothing. Within each category, separate by size. If your clothing ministry extends to shoes and outerwear, organize these items by size and gender as well.

Advertise the clothes closet ministry within the community: Spread the word throughout your congregation and others; put up flyers at homeless shelters, soup kitchens and food pantries; give the information to the principals and social workers at local schools; and send the information to civic groups, local charities or state offices engaged in helping those in need.

Involve your church more fully by inviting members to a brief dedication ceremony. Ask for their continued prayers and support for the new ministry. If you need ongoing financial support, work with your stewardship and finance personnel to make this request of the congregation as well.

About the Author

As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.

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