“The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none…”
- Luke 3:11
The Oil City organization's outpouring of love falls right in line with its mission statement “to glorify God by providing the surrounding area with free clothing in a setting of dignity..."
But like many other places, it has been shut down since the Governor's stay at home orders took effect in March. Hope 21 had to halt accepting donated items and closed its doors to walk-in customers.
On Thursday, the service ministry of the Crossing Free Methodist Church of Oil City, had a small reopening to test out social distancing procedures in preparation for resuming regular hours starting from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday night. Though patrons should check their Facebook page for updates during this ever changing situation.
The reopening means a return to service with an emphasis on dignity, care and kindness in all aspects of the organization. It is something evident from the focus on offering only gently used or new clothing to the atmosphere in which the donations are displayed.
Hope 21 is set up like a boutique on the third floor of the National Transit Building Annex. Clothing and shoes for men, women, children and babies are displayed throughout the open space to allow customers to easily find items that they need. All the clothing is free to those who need.
“We’ve helped many families over the four years. (People) who lost possessions in house fires as well as the Foster Cares Act,” said Lisa Swartz, one of the volunteer coordinators at Hope 21.
"Even though we've been closed during this pandemic, we have been able to help in a couple tragic situations behind the scenes," Swartz said.
As they reopen social distancing and health guidelines will be in place. They typically serve 30 to 40 people on any given Monday night.
While there is a core group running the program, Swartz points out that success depends on a much larger network of volunteers and donors. The organizing team of Ang Griffin, Kaleigh Gustafson, Jeri Brown and Dawn McVay are dedicated to this mission.
"It takes a team, God may have given us this opportunity, but it takes a team to pull it off," she said.
The team includes about 15 regular volunteers and dozens of others. Behind the scenes sorting and organizing is a continuous need.
"We always need men's and children's clothing,” Swartz said. The group accepts clothing of any size, but they should not have holes or stains. Underwear and socks must be new.
Donations of clothing and money are welcome, though they ask not to bring to the store to help maintain 10-person minimum for social distancing. The bin at the Crossing Free Methodist Church at 206 Wilson Avenue can still be used for donations. They will accept donations Tuesday night during their “sorting party."
The group is also currently need of heavy-duty 10-gallon plastic totes (call to ask for specifics), additional sturdy rolling clothing racks, and a foot measuring gauge.
“"People just don't know their shoe size anymore," Swartz said.
Financial donations are appreciated to help the group pay their rent.
Beyond material items, the group also offers hope, just as their name states. In the Hope Room, people can sit to reflect in peaceful quiet. Staffers will pray with them or chat as requested.
"It's a need, people need to know others are praying for them, shedding some kind of hope in their life," Swartz said.