By Caroline Leak
A community closet has blossomed in the oldest surviving church in Buena Vista. Christ Church Warden Andy Wolfe said it all started with a yard sale in December 2015. Over Christmas cookies and cocoa, members of the Episcopal church debated what to do about the extra clothes from the yard sale.
Once the idea of creating a community closet was sparked, Wolfe said the biggest challenge was getting organized.
“People were passionate about how we could make it happen,” he said. They decided to use a building attached to the church, a former rectory that had not been put to use much in recent years, to display the clothes.
“It really was a labor of love,” Susie Trimble, a member of the vestry, said. Trimble worked with other congregation members to clean up the building and organize the clothes.
“We wanted it to feel like a store. Just without the cash register,” Wolfe said. “The only question we ask when people come in is, ‘How can we help you today?’” Clothes for all ages and genders spread out in seven rooms in the rectory. Winter coats hang from racks donated from Peebles and stacks of silverware donated from Niko’s Grille in Lexington cover the kitchen counters.
The mission grew beyond anybody’s expectations.
Wolfe said they realized there was a huge need in the community for this service. “We were seeing people come in who you never would have thought needed it.” In a smaller building behind the rectory where they used to have Sunday school, bins of clothes fill the three rooms to the ceiling.
“You don’t need to be a big church to make a big difference,” Wolfe said, adding that 18 people in the pews on Sunday is a good turnout at Christ Church.
Members of other churches in Buena Vista and in Lexington, seven miles away, spend time sorting through and displaying clothes. This month, they are in the process of switching the summer clothes out for warmer winter clothes.
Single moms with two or three children in tow, couples who have lost their jobs, retirees, and victims of house fires are some of the people who come in, Trimble said. “We do have some who treat it like a free Walmart, but for the most part, there is a serious need in the community for this,” she said.
On average, 50 people will come on Saturdays. But Wolfe says up to 100 people will walk through their doors during busier weeks. Trimble said they always encourage them to help sort and display clothes on Wednesdays.
Having a consistent pool of volunteers to help has been the main challenge, Trimble said. “We can’t keep up with the intake of clothes. And people are happy to donate money but it’s their time that we need the most.”
“I just have to take it one day at a time,” she said. “Some Saturdays we can’t open because we don’t have enough help. But Saturdays are what make it all worthwhile, seeing the people come in.”
Trimble recalled one moment, “a Jesus moment,” where they had extra carpet samples and had given them to a couple. “The wife came back to our doorstep and just stood there,” Trimble said. “She had tears in her eyes, and I teared up, and we just hugged. And I knew I was in the right place.”