GARDINER — As Lynn Izzi and Tami Dutil worked their way through stacks of clothing Thursday, they summed up this situation they find themselves in at the United Methodist Clothes Closet.

“We have plenty of customers and plenty of donations,” Dutil said. “We don’t have enough volunteers.”

For 17 years, the Clothes Closet has operated out of the basement of the Knights of Columbus Hall on Spring Street, taking in donated clothing and reselling it for a few dollars per item, or providing it for free to about 100 families who qualify through their voucher program that allows every member in those families eight free items a month.

After the organization meets its expenses, it donates what’s left to charity.

Like many volunteer-run organizations, the Clothes Closet is looking for more help to take on the tasks of the operation — from pressing and pricing the donated clothing to hanging it on racks and selling it to whoever comes through the door on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

At 9 a.m. Monday, the Clothes Closet is holding a reorganization meeting. The volunteers are inviting members of other area churches, clubs and organizations to check out the Clothes Closet at 109 Spring St. and maybe sign up to be a volunteer.

They also plan to rename the organization as the Gardiner Area Clothes Closet.

“Our thought was that perhaps being affiliated with the church might have turned off some people from wanting to volunteer,” Izzi said. “So we thought if we made it more inclusive, we would get more volunteers.”

The Clothes Closet faces the same challenge as many church-affiliated projects: Congregations are aging and younger generations are not joining churches.

Right now, the Clothes Closet is staffed by nine volunteers, but three of them work only one day a week and three others will depart in the not-too-distant future to spend the winter in a warmer climate.

Izzi, who was examining clothing for rips or tears before pricing them and putting them on hangers, said six to eight more volunteers would be ideal.

“We used to have a lot more than that,” volunteer Judy Harriman said.

That way, they could also have workdays in the shop to get ahead of the work and do seasonal tasks, like swapping out summer clothes for winter ones. They might also be able to open again on Saturdays, which had been the busiest day of the week, but they haven’t had enough volunteers who wanted to work on the weekend.

Founder Bette Seymour answers questions Thursday about the United Methodist Clothes Closet in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

When the Clothes Closet started 17 years ago, there wasn’t anything like it in the area. Founder Bette Seymour, who ran it for about 12 years, said there were plenty of rummage sales at the church, but no resale shop and no one making clothes available for free.

“I said to the pastor that we needed a free clothes closet,” Seymour said. “She said that sounded like a good idea, but where would we have it?”

Seymour found the location through a network of friends, negotiated a nominal rent with the Knights of Columbus — “They’ve been very good to us,” she said — and with a host of volunteers set up the shop.

Along the way, they have opened their doors to families who have lost everything in house fires and have sent items to the homeless shelter.

To continue their work, Izzi said they’re looking for volunteers who are dependable, can follow directions and like working with people and can be trained to run the cash register. They also get a key volunteer perk: half price on any items they buy.

Izzi, who has been serving as manager, was training Dutil to take over her duties while Izzi moves into a less active role out of concern for the high numbers of the COVID-19 delta variant. Dutil happened on the Clothes Closet after her mother brought in some clothes to donate.

“The job itself is not challenging,” Izzi said, “but it’s very rewarding. The people who come in and need the clothing, they are so grateful.”


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