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Washington Voices

For $1 at door, families can fill enough bags to fill kids closet

Merryl Tschoepe would bounce all over the place if not for the tightly packed tables of children’s clothes that are filling the Seventh-day Adventist Fellowship Hall to the brim. She’s just that full of energy.

On Friday, Tschoepe will open the doors to one of only four free shopping days at God’s Closet. By closing time at 2 p.m. as many as 600 families will have taken home bags full of children’s clothes.

“We charge $1 for a family to get in,” said Tschoepe, who’s the founder and director of God’s Closet. “I would love for it to be completely free, but like everyone else we do have expenses. That $1 takes care of that.”

At the last free shopping day in May, 390 families found clothing for their children at God’s Closet.

Organized on big tables are sweaters, pants, shirts and other clothing items for boys and girls in sizes newborn to 18 years old. Under the tables are children’s shoes and sandals.

“Our major donor is Other Mother’s North, but we also get clothes from Other Mother’s South and from Once Upon a Child,” Tschoepe said. Those are all secondhand stores and Tschoepe explains that God’s Closet helps make sure leftover clothing reaches children who need it. “Some secondhand stores just throw out the stuff they can’t sell.”

Everything at God’s Closet is clean and whole.

Clothing that’s damaged or torn is collected in separate bins and donated to a place that cleans and recycles clothing – nothing is thrown out.

“I guess we are good for the environment, too,” Tschoepe said.

She got the idea for God’s Closet while she was a foster mom. A nonprofit offered a monthly free clothes shopping day to foster parents, such a welcome source of clothes for Tschoepe that she brought another mom along. Tschoepe didn’t think it was a big deal that the mom was not a foster parent.

“After we were done getting the clothes, I got chewed out for bringing her,” Tschoepe said. “And that’s how I got the idea for doing this for just regular parents.”

More than a year passed between the idea and the first God’s Closet free shopping day in 2009.

“I kept waking up in the middle of the night telling God that I couldn’t do this,” Tschoepe said, “but God kept after me. After a year I caved in.”

A core group of 15 volunteers now helps God’s Closet get ready for the four free shopping days every year.

And Upper Columbia Academy sends student volunteers for a sorting day before every event.

“The students are super quick, they really get things done,” Tschoepe said.

God’s Closet doesn’t run out of clothes: Upstairs the tables are brimming with clothes stacked neatly more than a foot deep; downstairs, in the basement, bags full of clothes are piled almost to the ceiling of the furnace room waiting to be sorted.

How much clothing is ready determines how many grocery bags each family gets to fill at the event.

“Last time they left with five or six bags each,” Tschoepe said.

There is another God’s Closet in Vancouver, Wash., and come November there will be a God’s Closet in Deer Park.

“I would like to expand this to Yakima,” Tschoepe said, “but I don’t know where God will lead me.”

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