Powered by generosity
Volunteers put in long hours to distribute donated clothing
GRAND ISLAND, Neb. — Tabitha’s Closet at Stolley Park Church of Christ is powered by generosity.
Community members donate clothing to the church, which gives it away.
Clothes change hands, but money doesn’t.
The clothing is distributed from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. every Thursday year-round at the church. But don’t assume the church volunteers work only on Thursdays.
To deal with the constant flow of donations, clothes are sorted Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The seven people who were on duty last Thursday were busy organizing clothes while customers were browsing.
“Some people probably put in 30 hours a week,” volunteer Jeff Wagner told The Grand Island Independent.
Many people donate clothes to the church. Wagner estimates that 40 bags of clothing come in every week.
“We couldn’t do it without the donations,” he said.
Because of the constant inflow of clothes, it’s work that never ends.
At Tabitha’s Closet, the level of organization is amazing. The clothing is kept in two storage rooms. The larger one is full of Dole cardboard boxes, each one full of clothes.
The volunteers keep up with the seasons. Right now, people have a choice of summer clothes.
Each person who visits gets a bag of items at no charge.
Tabitha’s Closet has been going for at least eight or 10 years.
“It’s just a ministry we do, to reach out to people in need,” Wagner said. “It’s important that we help our community and our neighbors.”
Stolley Park Church of Christ has about 100 members.
Wagner is one of eight church members who also does prison ministry at the Hall County Jail.
“It’s a busy church. It’s a workin’ church. And we should be,” Wagner said.
Anything the church can do to help the community and be involved in the community is fantastic, said the Rev. Trevon Buchanan, who is the pastor.
What Buchanan loves most about the program is that the clothing comes from the community and is given back to the community.
People call the church every day asking how to donate their clothes.
Some people say they’d rather bring them to Stolley Church of Christ because the church gives them to people in need rather than charges for them, Buchanan said.
Volunteer Wally McVay calls it “a ministry of love.”
Some people who pick up a pair of shoes or a pair of pants “almost have tears in their eyes because it doesn’t cost them anything. I’ve seen that before. It’s really touching,” McVay said.
Tabitha’s Closet takes it name from a character found in the Book of Acts. The Biblical Tabitha is full of good works and acts of charity.
About 115 people stop in each week. Some of the patrons are referred by Hope Harbor and other area organizations.
The giveaway is busiest in the morning. When the doors open at 9 a.m., 25 to 30 people are waiting outside.
Some customers are regulars.
When Gloria Smith isn’t seated at her familiar table near the entrance, some people say, “Where’s Gloria?”
While they’re working, the volunteers have a good time.
When asked how long McVay had been volunteering at Tabitha’s Closet, somebody said, “Since the creation of time.” Actually, it’s been about four years.
Smith, who triggers many of the laughs, volunteers because it gets her out of the house “and I love these people that come in.”
In addition to her work on Thursdays, Smith helps sort clothes on Mondays and Wednesdays.
Dawn McVay, Wally’s daughter, helps out because she likes the fellowship.
When the clothes distribution is done each Thursday, the volunteers go out to lunch together.
Sometimes people donate elegant clothes.
One woman told McVay she paid $300 for an outfit she dropped off, and she hoped Tabitha’s Closet would get a good price for it.
He told her that like all clothing, it would go to someone at no charge.
Another woman brought in a Gucci purse.
Some customers look for clothing not only for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren, said volunteer Amy Hance.
The volunteers sometimes set aside clothing they know specific customers desire, such as 3X shirts.
Regular volunteers include Linda Winget, Jan Prior, Cherrie Schmidt and Linda Sukraw. Also lending a hand are the Buchanans’ children, Truitt, Trevon, Harrison and Aneissa. “It’s a good group of people,” Wagner said.
The volunteers have taken some clothes home, washed them and brought them back to the church.
Some people say Wagner is in charge of Tabitha’s Closet.
But Wagner denies it. “We really don’t have a boss here,” he said. “Everybody just gets together and makes decisions as a group of people.”
Buchanan says Wagner is at the church “more than I am. He works every day and will do anything for anyone. We just love that guy to death.”
The volunteers know Wagner’s always going to be there, Smith said. “Why send him home? Just hang him on the wall.”
The early organizers of Tabitha’s Closet included Mike and Earlene Reeves, Herb and Linda Sukraw, Dick Epperly, Roger Christensen and Norvin Dunagan.
Making the program what it is today “took a lot of effort and a lot of dedication,” McVay said.
The annual coat giveaway in October is the busiest day at Tabitha’s Closet.
“That’s a crazy day. That’s all-hands-on-deck day,” said Hance, who moved to Grand Island with her husband, Carl, from Texas.
It’s easy to get caught up in the friendly, busy atmosphere of Tabitha’s Closet.
After visiting for a while, a reporter said he’d better be going.
“If you stick around too long, we’ll put you to work,” Wagner said.
Some people who pick up a pair of shoes or a pair of pants “almost have tears in their eyes because it doesn’t cost them anything. I’ve seen that before. It’s really touching.” — Wally McVay, volunteer, Tabitha’s Closet