Oregon Department of Human Services North Clackamas staff stock free Clothes Closet for children and adults to shop for what they need
The family was new to Oregon. There were several children and their mom looking at each article of clothing and each pair of shoes.
“The mom was so energetic and excited for any help. The kids got some new Nike shoes and some clothes they each liked. And we got a long- lasting relationship with this family. Those relationships are important,” Ashley Arrington said. She is the Administrative Assistant for the Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) Self-Sufficiency and Child Welfare programs North Clackamas office.
The mother and her children were shopping at the four-day, free Clothes Closet at this ODHS office. The office’s conference room was chock full of used and new clothes, shoes, school supplies, books, toys and even a few microwaves. About 20 families a day with about 80 to 100 people total each day. Anyone can come and shop and everything is free.
Another of those families was a grandmother who came in with all 12 of the children in her guardianship. She came back every day to check for new items.
“Some people came every day because we put out new items every day. I loved watching these families come in — making sure something fits, something that’s going to be useful. They weren’t just grabbing something because it’s free. Even the kids they really cared about what we’re doing for them. They didn’t just don’t grab all the toys. They wanted to leave some for others. Everybody was just so nice,” said Martha Gomez, a Case Aid for the Self-Sufficiency Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.
The Clothes Closet has grown since it was started three years ago by Arrington and Gomez. It’s not part of their job duties and they make the time for the Clothes Closet by working Saturdays and later hours sorting the clothes and getting donations. Mostly staff donated gently used or new clothes. The community also helps out. A local church donated a quantity of onesies for babies. Local athletic companies donated shoes and clothing. Except during the last two years because of the COVID pandemic, they would hold a Clothes Closet event in the Spring and the Fall. And the need for the Clothes Closet has increased.
“I’m always looking for a way to give back. It’s rewarding for staff also. It’s an opportunity for all of us to reach out and meet and assist our community,” Arrington said.
“We make sure every item it hung up nicely. The goal is for me is if I can’t wear something, I’m not going to let the people we serve wear it. We came in on Saturdays for weeks. We went through every item. We want to have people feel like we are giving then good quality clothing. Our employees did a good job of giving good items – even some household house items,” Gomez said.
Gomez and Arrington also had a lot of fun helping out at the event.
“It was like we were personal shoppers. A little girl came in and I found a dress and held it up for her and said, “Look at this pretty dress. It’s your size,” Arrington said.
This last Clothes Closet was a huge success. They had more shoppers than ever.
“Two years of COVID and not having any of these events — now there is so much more of a need. It gives us a deeper appreciation for the work we do. Staff were more inclined to really sell this event. We see people who are losing their jobs, people accessing services for the first time. These needs are going to stay for a long time. People needing living wages. There are people may not qualify for our services but they still have needs that aren’t being met,” Arrington said.
Arrington and Gomez also hold a free food market every second Thursday of the month from 9 a.m. until supplies last.
They also have a partnership with the Giving Table, which provide snacks and meals for families engaging in visits at their office; a holiday gift drive; and they volunteer for the annual Governor’s Food Drive.
“We have support of our leadership for all these events. It means we have to work a little harder – after hours, weekends. It’s all about seeing the positive outcomes for Oregonians and for staff,” Arrington said.
And the clothes that were left over from the Clothes Closet? They’re all out on racks and in the reception area. Every night the racks get restocked. Every night there are empty hangers.