Photo by Heather Middleton
For Carla Dennis, a student and mother of four, from Riverdale, the Clothes Closet in Jonesboro has been a blessing for the last four years.
At least once a month, Dennis will browse the store's shelves, finding shirts, pants, shoes, and, occasionally, children's books for pennies on the dollar.
"Since I started school, I haven't been coming every week like I used to," Dennis said. "It's not your typical thrift store. I don't know what I would do without this place, because I can afford to shop here. Not only does it do the obvious, clothe the outside [of the body], but they also provide ministry."
Located in a small, detached building across a parking lot from the First Baptist Church of Jonesboro Recreation Outreach Center, the Clothes Closet has operated as one of the church's local missions for more than 20 years. While only open on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, it serves as an oasis of support for people with physical and spiritual needs, according to store manager Carolyn Knox.
"We have people who drive Mercedes who come here, we have people who are homeless come here," Knox said. "We have people who have lots of kids who come here.
"The most expensive thing we have in the store is $3," she said, "so most anybody can afford it. All of our clothes are donated through the church and through the community. If they are in need, they can go to the church and get a voucher and it's just like money to us."
Through donations and careful sorting, Knox said, the Clothes Closet is able to offer gently used sheets, towels, socks, underwear, pants, shirts, shoes, dresses, jeans, coats, suits, and occasionally, books, toys, and other non-clothing items.
While the items at the store are available to anybody, Knox said the church members, who voluntarily staff the store, use the business as a way to identify and help the local homeless population.
"It's not one type of person [who comes to the store], but the homeless and the downtrodden are the type of people we try to minister to," Knox said. "At the Clothes Closet, our goal is just to keep them from freezing to death ... We are actually the ones who meet the people who need help. We see them before they get food or after they get food [from the church]. I can refer them to the mission office [of the church] and they get them the food and whatever else they need."
According to the church's executive pastor, Lanny Loe, First Baptist also operates a free medical clinic, pharmacy, and food pantry. He said that despite the low prices of items at the Clothes Closet, the business was able to generate $20,000 last year all of which went into supporting the church's other, local, benevolence ministries.
"The money that we get from the clothes goes right back to the food that we give away," Loe said. "The target for most of the things we do is the working poor. We really want to work with them and help them through the challenges.
"It's unique to the area, because there aren't many [thrift stores] out here in the area that give people a chance to get good clothes," he said. "We tell people, if you wouldn't let your sister wear it, don't give it to us. If we can help those families reduce their clothing expenses, that will help them with funds to do other things."
Knox said that, while many thrift shops sell items, the Clothes Closet tries to service the whole person. She said the job gives her many chances to offer comfort to people.
"Somebody came in here and got some clothes and got some food, and he started crying," she said. "I just put my arms around his neck and told him I love him and that everything is going to get better. It makes you feel good when you can hug somebody and tell them you love them, just because of who they are. I love my job ... it's like a calling to me."