Imagine going to a job interview in your underwear. Seems ridiculous, right? But for those that are impoverished, this might as well be a reality. For every person that shouts, "Get a job!" on social media, there are many more desperately trying to find work while handicapped by inadequate resources at home. Clay County Clothes Closet seeks to ease that burden.
The organization, staffed entirely by volunteers, is focused on providing adequate clothing for the entire family. While there are other clothes closets focused on providing for children, Clay County Clothes Closet is the only organization focused on servicing adults as well. And as we all know, you must dress for the job that you want. CCCC helps underemployed people gain the confidence to aim for better-paying positions, moving their families further off the ladder of poverty.
CCCC has been meeting this need for nearly 60 years. Started by Church Women United, they used to count heavily on church members from a variety of denominations to act as volunteers and source donations. Now, church volunteers have dwindled, but the need has not. Executive Director Deborah Butler says that their numbers swell every year as they see families referred from a variety of sources.
The way that CCCC works is simple. When families are referred, they make an appointment to come to their facility in Kansas City North. Children are taken 'shopping' with a volunteer that specializes in their age group. Donations of new or gently used clothing are cleaned and organized ahead of time so that their experience is akin to a personal shopping trip. Every person is provided with new socks and underwear, a winter coat if necessary and clothes that will get them through a week.
For adults, they are also provided with new socks and underwear. For those that need it, they are given vouchers for work shoes, whether they are nonslip or steel-toed shoes. For those that need the simple protections that this type of footwear affords, these vouchers are a godsend. Those interviewing for jobs are fitted with business clothes. Everyone leaves with a coat that will keep them warm for the winter.
For some children, their appearance at CCCC is a result of domestic violence or abuse. They are also gifted with a stuffed animal to take home as a small source of comfort. CCCC aims to make sure that children are clothed in a way that will allow them to hold their heads up amongst their peers at school, diffusing one more of the challenges that they face daily.
While many of the resources at CCCC are from direct donations, they also receive donations from other organizations, such as the Hillcrest Hope Thrift Store. Any donations that aren't suitable for CCCC's uses are donated to other nonprofits that can use them such as City Union Mission. Nothing is wasted, and nothing is taken for granted.
Butler says that the volunteers at CCCC take real ownership over their duties.
"We typically put people in one area, and they run that area. One of our volunteers just retired. She had been volunteering for 55 years. It's hard to find someone like that again," says Butler.
With millennials eschewing volunteering, for the time being, many of CCCC's volunteers are retiring, and Butler wonders where the next generation will originate. With rising costs of living, those with time to volunteer are few and far between.
CCCC may deal with clothing daily, but their ultimate goal is to give dignity to those that they serve.
"I can't tell you how many people have told us how great it felt to be treated like a human. When you're impoverished, you're fighting an uphill battle. Being treated with respect goes a long way toward changing your situation," she says.
If you would like to donate time, clothing, or money to the CCCC, please visit them at ClayCountyClothesCloset.org.