A “clothes closet” or “community closet” is a variation on the thrift store theme that focuses on clothing. Donated clothing comes in and goes out at little or no cost to those in need. This kind of outreach is a good fit for a food pantry, as providing food and clothing meets two basic human needs.
Ways to operate
1. One way to run a clothes closet meets people where they’re at financially. If clients can demonstrate that they are unable to pay during an interview, they will be allowed to ‘shop’ for a certain number of items that they can take home at no cost. If the person does have the ability to pay, a reasonable pricing method can be used like paying a flat rate of $5 for a grocery bag full of clothes.
2. The ‘thrift price’ model for operating a clothes closet has been made very popular by Goodwill Industries. They receive clothing items and then price each one for individual sale at a greatly reduced price. Prices for items vary from less than $1 to $10.
3. Another option is to partner with an organization like the Williams Companies in NC, who will pay a flat rate per pound for clothing that will be sent to the mission field in places like Africa. These companies will take clothing that isn’t likely to sell in a thrift store.
A major benefit of running a clothes closet is that they take an available resource (old clothes) and turn it into either material for ministry or resources for funding your ministry.
What you’ll need
For the clothes closet model to work you’ll need the following:
1. Space – You’ll be amazed how much space running a clothes closet will take. The best way to run a clothes closet is like a store where people are able to look through what is available and choose for themselves. A changing room where they can try them on is also a good idea.
2. Washers – Every piece of clothing that is donated will need to be laundered prior to being given away or sold.
3. Volunteers – Clothing will need to be sorted, washed, folded or hung up, and displayed before it reaches the person who will take it home. This takes a lot of time and volunteers are your best bet.
4. Clothing display supplies – Hangers, racks, shelving. You’ll need the right equipment to store the clothing in a neat and attractive fashion.
5. Accounting principles and equipment – If you’re selling the clothing, you’ll need to be able to take money, make change, and pay taxes (depending on where you’re located.) I’m not anywhere remotely qualified to tell you what tax laws in your state require, but it is likely that you’ll at least have to charge sales tax for anything you sell. Check with a competent tax attorney or accountant so you have the right information from the beginning.
6. Advertising – You’ll need some way to communicate both the need for donations and the availability of clothing. People won’t know about your ministry unless you tell them.