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Daniel’s Closet open after months of closure due to pandemic

When Daniel’s Closet reopened its doors last month, it had been five months since their clients, or as they like to call them, their friends, had been allowed to visit the no-charge clothes closet to look for much needed clothing.

What greeted them were the same smiling faces, this time obscured behind masks, but with the same willingness to serve a community that, in the time of a pandemic, is especially in need of help.

One thing Barbara Berndt and Carol Johnson, who are in charge of the closet’s ministry, say they miss the most in this time of social distancing and limits on crowd sizes, is the opportunity to connect with the people who come in search of not only clothing, but friendship and affirmation.

The clothing ministry, which has been run from the basement of Redeemer Lutheran Church since 2008, was named for Berndt’s grandson, Daniel, whose compassionate heart was touched when seeing a homeless man.

The crowd who is usually waiting for the door at the clothes closet to open on the fourth Saturday of the month, was modest for the reopening according to Johnson, who also serves as the church’s vicar.

“Summer is always a little lower, but usually the back-to-school one has a pretty good return, because people are looking for clothes for going back to school,” Johnson said.

“They know that we do school supplies,” Berndt added.

Johnson attributed the smaller attendance — around 50, which is about a third of the usual pre-pandemic crowd — to apprehensiveness about the health crisis.

“On a normal Saturday, when we let them in, it’s like the floodgates open. It’s packed,” Johnson said.

“They will start lining up at 7:30 so they can be first in the door. That’s an hour and a half before we even open,” she added.

Mitigation procedures were followed for the reopening at the site, with only 20 people allowed in at a time. Everyone had to wear a mask and were given hand sanitizer before they entered. They were told that they had to come in one door and exit through another door and shopping would be limited to ten minutes. If anyone needed more time than that, they had to leave and join the line outside to come in again to finish their shopping.

Shoppers were encouraged to socially distance, which both ladies said people have learned to do without thinking after so many months of doing it.

“People were wonderful,” Johnson said. “In this time some people are so impatient, but people were very patient, very understanding.”

“Usually because we’re not all about clothing, but about fellowship and seeing old friends, but we stressed no socializing, just shop,” Berndt said.

The smaller attendance was also easier for the all-volunteer staff to handle.

“Some of our normal help was apprehensive about coming,” Berndt explained.

She noted that the volunteers who help with the ministry come from not only the church, but also from the community.

Missing from the first Saturday back were the refreshments, coffee and snacks, that were usually available to the shoppers. Clients did receive a snack bag to take home as they left the building.

“It was definitely a different program than normal,” Johnson stated.

“I miss the hugs,” Berndt interjected. “I really do.”

Both ladies said that the people who came to the reopening expressed thanks that the ministry was up and running again.

“For some of them, this fills a very major need for them — basic clothing, shoes, blankets,” Johnson said.

“You have no idea what those people walk through in their shoes. What problems are facing them. Obviously in the last six months, those problems have just multiplied with job issues, housing issues, school issues. The stressors on people are just greater as they try to get from day to day and month to month. Whatever we can provide within the scope of what we can provide, we provide,” Johnson added.

She shared that during the time that the closet was closed sue to the shutdown, there were people who came on Sunday after the church service to see if they could obtain clothing items that were desperately needed.

Although there wasn’t an opportunity for social interaction at the reopening, Berndt admitted that you can’t help but connect with people to a certain extent, particularly some of the older ones who come in to shop regularly.

“It’s like, oh good they’re here. To me that was, thank God, nobody was down with this stuff,” she said.

Those coming to the clothes closet will see a new set-up thanks to shelving units from a local department store that closed. Clothing for men, women and children according to size on open, easily accessible shelves.

Going forward, both said that there will be a structured time for shopping, although they’re not sure of the exact time limit at this point.

“It depends on how many people are out there and what the weather is,” Johnson said. “We’re praying for good weather from now until December.”

Clothing at the closet is accepted at least a week in advance of the day that they’re open so that it can sit untouched to make sure that there are no issues with COVID-19. Set-up is the Thursday before the sale day. Donations are accepted from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. on the days of the church’s community dinners.

At Christmas the group offers a new toy to parents for each child in their household, ages infant to 14.

“These toys or the funds to buy toys are donated by generous community members,” Berndt said. She stressed that Daniel’s Closet does not solicit for this, but that businesses are welcome to contact them for opportunities to donate. Any leftover funds are used throughout the year for other items, such as soap and a limited number of turkey baskets at Thanksgiving.

Seasonal clothing is especially welcome in sizes for children and small men. Shoes, towels, sheets as well as blankets for the winter months.

Speaking of the work they do, Berndt said, “If we helped one person that day, then it’s been a success.”

“I think that’s how people are impacted. When that need of one person touches your heart then you realize how blessed you are and you really should be moving forward to help others who are not as blessed. That’s how we operate here,” Johnson added.

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