Whether you’re homeless, you just got out of jail or just down on your luck, there’s a place in town you can get fixed up with a new outfit any time of the year.

The Ellensburg Community Clothing Center provides gently used clothing to people in need free of charge. The program, which is headquartered at the Ellensburg United Methodist Church on Ruby Street is open on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Families can pick up 10 items of clothing per person per month. Items range from winter coats during the appropriate months to hats, ties and shoes for both adults and children. The magnitude of clothing given out is impressive: so far in 2019, the center has distributed over 10,000 pieces of clothing as well as over 150 winter coats.

The program has humble roots going back to 1971. A Feb. 10 article that year in the Daily Record said the need was realized as many groups had placed boxes in their respective churches, but there was no specific place the clothing could be made available for those in need. Women of the various churches met to discuss the need and possibility of gathering all the clothing together in one spot so it could be advertised and made use of.

“While it is too large a project for any one group, the women feel through cooperation it could be accomplished,” the article stated. “It is being established as a community project and is open to participate in its organization and development.”

THE CENTER TODAY

Program coordinator Peggy Beales said the community spirit that helped create the center is still integrated in the fabric of the center’s operation. The center works with other clothing banks in the county to share and distribute clothing when the other locations are in need. She added that some of the approximately 30 volunteers for the center have been there since it opened in 1971.

Volunteers for the center work a variety of jobs, from manning the counter at the clothing center to sorting and organizing clothes by season in the densely packed sorting room. The sorting room gives the center the ability to store winter clothes that are donated in summer and vice-versa. Volunteers also run a new program for the center called CWU Night, where they partner with FISH Community Food Bank to provide clothing and meals for students in need. The first night the clothing center opened, Beale said CWU staffers ran the event and had 10 students attend.

“Which is just amazing really,” she said. “It’s just word of mouth through the students.”

For all its successes, the center suffered a major setback in 2012, when an arsonist set fire to the clothing collection box which was originally made of wood and sat in the annex. The fire spread to an adjoining building, destroying the clothing center. Luckily, Beales said the building was insured and was fully rebuilt and reopened within a year. During the rebuilding process, she said the church decided to make the center look more like a traditional clothing store complete with changing rooms.

“When they go in, it’s fresh, it’s clean,” she said. “They deserve not to scrounge in a box on the floor. A little bit of dignity there.”

With approximately 760 visitors to date, Beales said the center is growing in numbers of people it serves. She said peak months tend to be at the beginning of summer or winter seasons but use of the center stays relatively consistent throughout the year. Although the center accepts any clothing in good condition, some items are more coveted than others.

“Size five through eight kids’ jeans,” she said. “Believe it or not. When they come in, we’re all in the room saying, ‘Yes!’”

The community spirit that helps keep the center successful extends beyond the church community. Beales said local businesses help aid the center when they are seeking out winter coats as the weather gets colder. The spirit even extends across the mountains, with churches on the West Side helping with donations during the year.

“All we have to do is just say the word and it’s like the help come in,” she said. “It’s amazing. People want to help.”

DIVINE MOTIVATION

With all the long hours and hard work that goes into keeping the center operating, Beales said the biggest reward for her are the friendships that are made within the community. She recalled a story of a homeless man that came to the center seeking appropriate clothing to wear to a dinner he was invited to.

“We outfitted him from top to bottom,” she said. “He just gave us such a big hug. Just stories like that and people here in town that can’t make their ends meet.”

Church Pastor Mark Wagner said creating friendships through the center speaks to a bigger need that is being filled through those connections.

“Obviously people need clothes,” he said. “That’s a need we can help facilitate. At the end of the day, what’s more important is the relationship that is cultivated with people that often go unseen in this world. People struggling with poverty, immigrant families, people on the margins that aren’t seen. When they come here, they build relationships with people that are volunteering. That’s another layer, a deeper layer of need that gets met.”

Being new to Ellensburg, Wagner said he has been impressed at the magnitude of social outreach programs his congregation provides to those in need, and that the clothing center is one component of many within the network of help the church provides to the community.

“It’s inspiring to me,” he said. “I’ve honestly never been a part of a church that’s so engaged in caring for people in their community.”

Wagner said all the services the church provides comes from being compelled by a relationship with Christ and faith in God, and that the congregation gets to be agents of reconciliation within the community in times of need.

“Central to the Christian faith is caring for the poor,” he said. “That’s God’s heart is to care for people in need. We’re at the hands and feet of Jesus, that’s what we believe. I think this church specifically has been a great example of that for 100 years in this community.”

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