The right fit: Knowing current needs makes for smarter clothing donations

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PENDLETON — Niki Brown can see it in their faces. The children across the counter, grinning broadly. The parents with tears in their eyes.

It means so much to them to have clothes, clothes they feel good about wearing.

“It builds up the kids’ self-esteem and makes them excited whenever they go to school,” she said. “That right there is priceless.”

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Lots of things are priceless in an organization largely staffed by volunteers. And yet some good intentions can prove costly.

There’s the occasional bag stuffed into the Outfitters drop box with toys, pillows or sheets — none of which are distributed by the organization. Or there are soiled or torn clothes that become an added chore that takes time away from the organization’s true mission.

“I think people clean out their closets … I think they think they are helping us,” Brown said. “(But) It’s not a good use of our volunteers’ time to sort through items we can’t use.”

Fortunately, many others bringing clothes by are dropping off usable garments. Some donated items still have the tags on, even.

“We really take pride in the selection of clothes. … We’re really grateful for everyone in the community that does contribute and drops off,” Brown said. “Just in a week and a half we have received 150 bags of donations, which is phenomenal.”

Families served by the organization can book a shopping appointment online and visit the Outfitters store twice a year for seven days’ worth of clothes for the child. Students receiving free and reduced-price lunches receive vouchers to shop. Some other shoppers are referred by a township trustee, school, shelter or church.

Other East Central Indiana organizations who distribute clothing also have their stories of what they can do without and what they could really use.

Peggy Couch, for example, knows how much a $3 rain poncho can mean.

Couch and her husband, Dean, launched God’s Open Arms Ministry in Greenfield. For five years, they and other volunteers have traveled weekly to offer supplies in Hancock and Marion counties.

For people who are homeless and braving an Indiana winter, staying dry is crucial to staying warm. Once a piece of clothing is wet, those without access to a dryer or tokens for a laundromat dryer struggle to get it dry again.

“Once people get wet from rain or snow … if they’re wet, they’re wet,” Couch said.

Generally, volunteers are the ones sorting and distributing clothes in hers and other organizations, stretching dollars to meet the most needs and have the biggest impact. So they’re grateful, they emphasize, for whatever people donate.

But some donations are better than others. “It’s better than nothing” can be the refrain of some would-be donors — but if it’s a pair of boots that leak, that might not be true.

“The intentions are good … I’m not being ungrateful for any donation at all,” Peggy Couch said. “It’s just that some donations are more practical than others.”

Linda Vodney finds toddler outfits a very practical donation.

“We just have nothing” in the 18-month to 2T size range, said Vodney, office manager at Life Choices Care Center in Greenfield.

The center offers free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and counseling among its services. It also offers clothes up to 2T to those who need them for their children, regardless of whether they’ve been a client of the center.

At another center serving a different age group, the hoped-for clothing size is plus sizes. Hope Center Indy, a facility west of New Palestine, ministers to women coming out of human trafficking.

While the first-floor boutique sells new fashion and accessories and a few gently used garments to the public, the center has a second-floor boutique to offer apparel to the women staying there.

“We’ve tried to make it cute and store-ish,” said Sarah Blair, one of the directors of the Redefined Hope Boutique that raises funds for Hope Center Indy.

The women receive new socks, but their boutique features gently used clothes and accessories. Blair said those donating items for the center need to aim for clothes suitable for an 18- to 30-year-old woman. Larger sizes, extra-large to 3X, are a particular need.

Like Hope Center Indy, Changing Footprints also requests new pairs of socks. The non-profit organization, which distributes shoes to people in need locally and globally, anticipates a move to Greenfield in February.

“Because we give away one pair of new socks with each pair of shoes, there is always a huge need for socks,” board member Deb Cherry wrote in an email to The Times-Post.

Outfitters also distributes new socks. Brown has worked to boost the supply through sock drives at South Madison schools or prize drawings for sock donors at Pendleton Heights basketball games.

Brown also tries to post the most recent needs on the organization’s Facebook page. Boys athletic shorts are difficult to keep stocked; recently Outfitters has had to limit boys to two pairs of that type when they’re selecting their week’s worth of clothes.

Brown will always take winter coats, too — and donations of time. Those interested in volunteering can sign up online at outfittersclothes.org for a tour of the store to learn about the different types of jobs volunteers do.

Brown said Outfitters served 590 students for the back-to-school shopping season. Through volunteers and community partnership, the work moves forward.

“God just keeps continuing to provide every time we face a new challenge,” Brown said. “It’s truly a blessing.”

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The annual Outfitters Gala is set for Feb. 23 at Embassy Suites Conference Center in Noblesville (Exit 210).

This year’s theme is "Outfitters Rolls Out the Red Carpet," a nod to the Oscars. It’s a formal black-tie affair.

Galagoers get to walk the red carpet. Pendleton Heights student radio station WEEM will broadcast live, and "Joan Rivers" will do red-carpet interviews.

Cocktail hour from 6 to 7 p.m. During this time guests can dine on spring rolls, meatballs and seasoned chicken on a skewer as they look at silent auction and dessert auction items and listen to a string quartet from Anderson University.

Steve Arberburn, host of the radio show "New Llife Live," will emcee the event. Kenny Phelps Band will play jazz music, and The Flying Toasters’ Stacy McCracken will be featured vocalist.

Dinner will be steak and salmon with long-stem green beans, mashed potatoes and garden salad. A vegetarian option is also available.

New this year is a VIP package. For $10 extra guests receive VIP parking, VIP seating, a gift bag and a meet and greet with Arterburn.

Anyone can support the event by attending and/or through sponsorship. "If you love Outfitters and you want to support the cause, all you have to do is go online and buy a ticket," said Executive Director Niki Brown. Ticket details will be posted soon at outfittersclothes.org, or call 765-623-2068.

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