In the fall of 2019 Erika Richards saw a post on Facebook that touched her heart and prompted her to action. It was about a project being done in the Cozad school to help provide clothing items for children in need. After confirming with school counselors in Gothenburg that there is a need among children for clothing and personal hygiene items here too, Richards went to work organizing what would become The Giving Closet.
Within a few weeks Richards had been given a space at the Cornerstone Bible Church to set up shop and she began receiving donations of new and gently used clothing items. Her primary focus was on clothing and essential items for kids from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. This week Richards was thrilled to open The Giving Closet in a new downtown location, providing an expanded user-friendly space that is more accessible to the public.
“We grew quickly and got a space over at the Methodist Church. We also found out there was a need for much more - all the way through adults. So part of the items were moved to a space at the Methodist Church and part stayed at Cornerstone,” Richards explained. “It just kept growing and growing. I work with several different agencies who would send referrals, and word of mouth just took off. We needed a bigger space and where we were wasn’t as accessible as we wanted.” Seeing the need, the Gothenburg Early Childhood Learning Coalition (GECLC) and Dawson County Family Partners joined forces in partnership with what Richards was doing. “When Erika heard GECLC was working with young children in town, as well as their families, we started visiting and soon realized our goal of addressing community-wide challenges impacting children and their families was very closely tied to hers,” said Nichole Hetz, GECLC Community Coordinator. “Once Dawson County Family Partners was started, we had an even stronger connection to this work. We couldn't be happier to be partners in this wonderful addition to Gothenburg."
Through support from those organizations Richards was able to secure the much needed larger location at 827 Lake Avenue. This location met all of the requirements she needed - the proper amount of space, laundry hookups and alley access.
“Door after door kept opening, so I kept stepping out. It all started at the beginning of April,” said Richards.
She is overjoyed at what she will now be able to offer people in the new store. “We have a shoe rack now! Families will be able to come in and find shoes without digging through boxes,” Richards said as she fought back tears. “This is a big deal. Families have not been able to utilize this as it was envisioned to be, so the fact that we’re here is so huge. I can’t wait to see their faces.”
Richards and friends who have volunteered their time to help out have been diligently working to sort and organize items and label displays. The Giving Closet is a community clothing exchange that gives all families in town access to clothing. As a non-profit, the store is run completely by volunteers. All items are free to the recipients; however, if shoppers would like to contribute a free will donation they have the opportunity to do that.
Donations of items are accepted during business hours only on the day(s) specified on their Facebook page and on the door of the store. Stained or torn clothing will not be accepted, nor will clothing with missing buttons or broken zippers. Because of the limited space only clothing items from the current donation season will be accepted. The only non-clothing items The Giving Closet will accept are full-sized toiletry items such as shampoo, conditioner, body wash, toothpaste, deodorant, etc.
One need Richards sees in the community is with foster children who come into homes with very few, if any, clothing items. The Giving Closet provides a resource for those families and any family that is in a rebuilding process. Information on available resources for families experiencing any kind of crisis or difficult situation is also available at the closet.
“It goes farther than just clothing items - it’s their hearts. Now we can connect people and help build and heal relationships,” Richards added. “Initially we really wanted to keep everything very private, because I know there is a stigma that comes along with this. Eventually I understood that if everybody comes there is no stigma. So this is open to anyone and everyone. The objective is to break the stigma.”
The Giving Closet offers clothes and shoes for all family members, from infant to adult. The downtown location will be open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“I believe in meeting people where they are, not where you want them to be,” Richards said. “I’m really looking forward to making those connections.”