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The Wardrobe has been helping families and schoolchildren for nearly 50 years.
Evette Nissen recalls hearing from a counselor about a child who came to school wearing flip flops during the winter. The Wardrobe provided the child with a pair of shoes courtesy of its shoe program, and it made all the difference to the child. The child was excited to have a pair of shoes that fit, and the counselor sent an appreciative letter to The Wardrobe.
Nissen, The Wardrobe’s board chair, says it’s touching moments like these that make volunteering at the local thrift shop rewarding. Ten years ago, Nissen was looking for ways to give back and keep busy after retirement and found volunteering at The Wardrobe through her church.
On a typical day at The Wardrobe, there may be a refugee family coming in for new clothes for the entire family, a homeless person who comes in wearing a blanket and in need of a warm winter coat, and even a bride-to-be who finds a designer wedding gown for $2. It’s all made possible thanks to the local thrift shop’s low prices aimed toward those in need.
Tucked away in a warehouse-style building off Park Avenue, The Wardrobe is close to the Boone County Courthouse and Columbia College. For nearly 50 years, it’s been operated completely by volunteers like Nissen. The vast majority of the nonprofit’s volunteers come from local churches and sign up for shifts. An average of eight volunteers work in two shifts each day, sorting and selling clothes and working in the store or back storage room. Volunteers are all ages, and some even bring their grandchildren to help.
“I feel like I’m doing something good for the community,” says Judy Bock, publicity coordinator for The Wardrobe. Bock first began volunteering at The Wardrobe three years ago after hearing about it from her sister.
In addition to giving back, Bock considers herself a “real recycler” and is attracted to the reuse and recycle aspect of a thrift store. “I love thrift stores and bargains,” she says. “I don’t enjoy paying high prices if I can go to The Wardrobe and get something that works for me for a dollar.”
Thrift store shoppers can often find unique treasures at The Wardrobe they can’t find elsewhere. Bock recalls finding a pair of shoes for herself at The Wardrobe that she later looked up online. “They are over $100 shoes,” she says. “Yes, someone else has worn them, but they are in good shape and can be worn another five or 10 years.”
Items are priced low to serve those in need, and typically items are sold for a dollar or two. The store stocks household goods and clothing for customers of all ages and for men and women. Besides its selection of wedding dresses, The Wardrobe also has an aisle of prom dresses and a section of MU wear, popular with locals and college students. Halloween costumes come out in the fall. During their biannual clearance events, when the store switches merchandise for the season, shoppers can get anything they can stuff into a blue recycling bag for $2 a bag.
If you’re not a thrift store shopper, however, Bock has a suggestion: Be a thrift store donator.
Every Tuesday is referral day: Individuals with referrals from an agency or church can shop for free, receiving a selection of clothing, shoes, and other household goods. The number of items each referral can receive is impressive; the list for women, for example, includes five outfits, five tops or blouses, several pairs of shorts, a coat, a pair of shoes, and a purse, plus many other items.
One of the agencies The Wardrobe partners with is the Voluntary Action Center. Last year, VAC provided 819 vouchers for The Wardrobe to 1,876 individuals. Over the past two years, VAC averaged 50 to 60 vouchers each month — a 50% increase from 2015-2016.
“It’s nice to have this community resource available when clients request a clothing voucher,” says Carissa Rounkles, social services specialist at VAC. “We notice a spike in requests during the change of seasons and at back-to-school. Sometimes our clients are wearing the only clothes they own. Imagine their relief when receiving a Wardrobe voucher!”
Nissen estimates that on an average referral day, they serve 150 individuals, all from Boone County. Last month, they had more families than individuals, and about half were children.
The Wardrobe is well-known for its community shoe program, and all of its profits go to buy new shoes for local schoolchildren. “People are very appreciative at shoe coupon time,” says Nissen.
Last year, The Wardrobe’s shoe program served close to 2,000 local individuals. Individuals can purchase a shoe coupon for $4 that they can then take to a retailer to use for a $35 pair of shoes. The program happens twice a year, in February and in August, when back-to-school time means a larger demand for the program.
For years, The Wardrobe’s partner in the shoe program was Payless ShoeSource, but with the national chain’s closing, they needed to find a new partner. “We’re thankful to have another shoe company that will work with us,” says Nissen. Shoe Carnival stepped up and will now serve as the local shoe retailer for the program.
The new partnership ensures that the shoe program will go on and The Wardrobe’s work serving schoolchildren and providing clothes for our community continues as it looks toward the next 50 years — and beyond.
Mission: Working to assist low-income families with gently used clothing and new shoes for schoolchildren.
715 Park Ave.
Wednesday-Friday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to noon
Mondays and Saturdays: 9 a.m. to noon
Tuesday and Wednesday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.