PARIS — The sun was shining Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 3, and the break in the weather allowed South Paris residents Deb Billings and Glen Newell to walk past the gently waving flag that reads “Garments of Praise” and into South Paris Baptist Church to drop off donations and check out new arrivals.
They were heading into the basement of the church at 1 Park St. for its volunteer-run clothes closet that’s open every Tuesday from 1 to 3 p.m. Newell says he and Billings are friends and usually visit Garments of Praise every other week. They both bring in items they no longer need and Billings often looks for clothing for her grandchildren since they grow so fast.
“We like to donate things and to get a few things back,” Newell says. “We always bring something over.”
Elaine MacIntyre is one of three volunteers on hand that Tuesday afternoon, and says that come April, the donations-only clothes closet will have been open two years. She and the other volunteers have just emptied five big bags of donated clothes, which include items for children, women and men.
“As they get here, we hang them out. We don’t throw anything away,” she says, noting surplus clothes go to the Salvation Army and Goodwill. “If (shoppers) are destitute, we give it away.”
There are brand new clothes with the tags still intact that are dropped off regularly to help those in need, MacIntyre says. And for the young families out there, there are lots of baby items.
“It’s a good place to dress your kids,” she says.
Hattie Johnson, who’s the unofficial leader of the volunteers, says by phone last Monday that some people in the community have heard about Garments of Praise, but they’re trying to get the word out. That’s why a fashion show was held two weekends ago using items — including shoes and accessories — from the clothes closet, with MacIntyre saying the event was fun for everyone involved. They plan to host another come spring.
“That’s mainly our goal — to reach out to those in the community to let them know there’s a helping hand out there and we care,” Johnson says.
There was an influx of requests for coats just before the cold weather hit this season, so the volunteers put out the word that they needed coats for men, women and children.
“We were just overwhelmed with the amount of coats that came in,” Johnson says. “In three weeks, 85 percent of the coats went back out.”
It isn’t only through clothes that the group is able to help those down on their luck. Garments of Praise also collects monetary donations, with the majority of the money going to the Oxford Hills Food Bank in the basement of Christ Episcopal Church in Norway. Johnson says they’ve also given out gift cards to Hannaford Supermarkets, gave away Thanksgiving baskets last year, helped people pay for oil, put gas in cars and helped those displaced by fire.
“Looking back over the finances and everything, we don’t hold onto anything. It goes out just as fast as it’s coming in because there’s always somebody that needs something,” she says. “With the winter here, it’s been up close and personal. (We’re) face-to-face with people. Everybody keeps their eyes open in case there’s somebody we know that’s in need. That’s what we’re here for.”
While helping others in need pulls at their heart strings, it’s also satisfying volunteer work.
“We are doing what God wants us to do and we just enjoy doing it,” Johnson says.
She adds that Garments of Praise isn’t affiliated with the church, which simply houses the clothes closet. Some of the volunteers don’t even attend South Paris Baptist Church. While there’s a core group of nine or 10 who help out every week, some people just drop in or lend a hand when they’re able.
“It’s a blessing for us to do it, so we like to share that blessing,” Johnson says. “We’re always open to anybody who wants to come and help.”
Those looking to volunteer can call Johnson at 527-2724.