Fifty years ago, a group of women saw a need for clothing for members of the Columbia community — so they founded The Wardrobe.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in April, The Wardrobe is a nonprofit located at 715 Park Ave. that serves low income people and families in Columbia, according to Judith Bock, publicity coordinator for the organization.

On Monday — the day designated for volunteers to come in while the shop is closed so they can work with inventory without the public around — volunteers spent time sorting, pricing, hanging and cleaning clothing and other items while Bock explained what The Wardrobe does for the community.

The Wardrobe serves people through a variety of programs, according to Bock, who has been volunteering with the store for about five years. As she walked by shelves full of shoes, Bock brought up their shoe program.

“Our big focus is on our shoe program,” Bock said. “All of our profits go towards the shoe program.”

Evette Nissen, the board chair at The Wardrobe, said children in Columbia Public Schools who are referred by an agency, counselor or church are able to purchase a $5 coupon from The Wardrobe for a new pair of shoes — worth up to $40.

The Wardrobe uses all of its profits to pay the difference to Shoe Carnival, according to Nissen. In the past, the program has occurred twice a year, the last time in August 2019. Nissen said the Wardrobe sold 3,339 shoe coupons over the course of three days. Because of the need, she said, this year The Wardrobe has set up a different approach for the shoe program that does not require new referrals.

“Every six months, they can come in on a Tuesday to get a shoe coupon,” Nissen said. “We just keep their original referral form to keep track.”

Tuesdays at The Wardrobe are also known as referral Tuesdays, according to Bock. Using the same referral form for the shoe program, Tuesdays are the day for the people who are referred to come in and receive free clothing, bedding, blankets and more — without worrying about The Wardrobe being open to the public.

“There will be a long line,” Bock said. “It seems to be a pretty needed program in the community.”

Wednesdays through Saturdays are days open to the public for shopping. Bock said during that time, volunteers work in the store, which only accepts cash for the purchases. The Wardrobe is closed on Sundays and also whenever Columbia Public Schools is closed due to inclement weather.

Bock said she learned about The Wardrobe through her sister, who used to volunteer there. She then began volunteering through her church.

Nissen has been volunteering for The Wardrobe for a little longer — around 10 years.

“I like doing things that help people in the community,” Nissen said.

The Wardrobe’s 50th anniversary celebration will be from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 23 at the store, 715 Park Ave. The event will be open to the public, and punch and cookies will be provided.

Supervising editor is Fred Anklam Jr.

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