DOWNTOWN: Volunteers help The Wardrobe aid low-income families

Monday, September 26, 2011 | 7:27 p.m. CDT; updated 10:38 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 26, 2011
Barbara Wyatt removes summer clothes from the racks at The Wardrobe on Saturday morning. Wyatt volunteers with "hands-on missions" alongside the First Baptist youth group to set an example for her grandson.

COLUMBIA — The front doors of The Wardrobe closed at noon Saturday for a group of volunteers in green and red T-shirts.

Volunteers from First Baptist Church gathered at the 41-year-old social service agency at 715 Park Ave. to replace summer garments with winter clothing for the store that aims to serve low-income families.

The Wardrobe hours

Monday, closed 
Tuesday, open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to referred clients only 
Wednesday, open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. ($2 all-you-can-get blue bag sale)
Thursday, open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to the public
Friday, open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. to the public
Saturday, open 9 a.m. to noon to the public
Sunday, closed 

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Led by Susie Bennett, the youth ministry director and co-interim mission coordinator of First Baptist Church, the group held each other’s hands and started off their service by praying in a circle.

The Wardrobe’s board chairwoman, Michelle Woodson, brought out boxes of gray garbage bags and asked the volunteers to fill them all the way up with off-season merchandise.

Remains Incorporate, a recycling company in St. Louis, will collect the leftover summer garments next week, Woodson said. 

Woodson has been volunteering at The Wardrobe for about six years. She said the changes and improvements that all the volunteers make to keep the store an appealing place for low-income clients motivate her.

“You see people desperately in need, and this is the place where they can get assistance,” Woodson said. 

Woodson remembers a newly released inmate with a young daughter who came to The Wardrobe.

“She had nothing when she came in, but we were able to give her an air mattress, a few cooking pans, a set of dishes and clothes for her and her daughter,” Woodson said. “She just started crying and gave me a hug; this is what it was all about — somebody that really needed some help was able to get it from us.”

The people in need get referral forms through the churches, soup kitchen and voluntary agencies; and the forms are their one-year ticket to obtain clothing from The Wardrobe. Woodson said every client has a quota for clothes: women can get up to five outfits per quarter, for example. Parents can choose clothes for their children as well.

On Saturday, blue bags were stacked halfway up the wall of the storage room where winter clothes are kept. Shelves held hats, gloves and socks to be sorted this week by volunteers.

"That's why we always have our 'no whining' sign hanging here," Woodson said.

With the overwhelming amount of donations, Woodson said they had 52 volunteers last week to make sure the store was in order for Tuesday when people in need come in. She said the demand for clothes makes donations vital in keeping the store running. 

Everything in the store ranges from 25 cents to $5, while certain brands or new merchandise cost more.

Woodson said The Wardrobe uses sales profits to hold a shoe coupon sale in August for low-income clients.

“They can buy a shoe coupon for $4, take it to Payless ShoeSource and buy a pair of shoes for their children that’s up to $30,” she said.

The Wardrobe reimburses Payless ShoeSource the difference between the two prices. Woodson said the shoe coupons are only eligible to be used on children in Boone County and between kindergarten and 12th grade.

“In last August, we sold 1,507 coupons, so if everybody bought the shoes at the maximum amount, $30, that’d be over $39,000 that The Wardrobe put out,” she said.

There are currently 15 churches in Columbia that provide volunteers on a regular basis, including First Baptist Church.

Bennett, the church mission coordinator, said First Baptist Church has been involved with The Wardrobe for more than 10 years now.

“Some of our retired people usually come and volunteer on the third Friday of every month,” she said.

Volunteer Barry Kausler said he was surprised by how efficient everyone worked in a short time.

“Anytime we can get together with the members of our church and work for a good cause, it’s a good feeling,” he said.

Another volunteer, Barbara Wyatt, has been volunteering at The Wardrobe for the past two years. The 82-year-old comes in on every third Friday of the month.

“I’m thinking about someone will smile because (he or she’ll think) this is the stripe blouse that an old lady in Columbia donated,” Wyatt said. “They will know somebody cares about them.”

Woodson said The Wardrobe uses the profit made from clothing sales to hold a shoe coupon sale in August for low-income clients.

“They can buy a shoe coupon for $4, take it to Payless Shoes and buy a pair of shoes for their children that’s up to $30,” she said.

The wardrobe reimburses Payless Shoes the difference of the two prices. She said the shoe coupons are only eligible to be used on children in the Boone County and between kindergarten and grade 12.

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