By Julie Lorenz/Pacific Union Recorder
|At a God’s Closet "free shop day," parents and grandparents choose clothes neatly arranged by size.
Photo by Ken Merz
Take an Adventist tradition, put a unique spin on it, and you have God’s Closet. Begun in 2009 as a local church outreach in Spokane, Washington, God’s Closet is now an official ministry of the North American Division (NAD).
“I’m amazed at what God has done with this ministry!” said Merryl Tschoepe, who had the idea to start this outreach ministry. Tschoepe, now a Redding, California, church member after a move several years ago, added, “This is very exciting!”
For decades, churches have distributed used clothing to people in need. Tschoepe built on that idea when she envisioned turning the experience into a fun and relationship-building event. Not only do families find clothes for their kids for the bargain price of $1, they also find friendship and spiritual support. “God’s Closet reaches the community and it costs churches basically nothing,” said Tschoepe. “People are so grateful — times are tough, and clothes are expensive.”
As many as 600 people have attended a God’s Closet event. Currently there are 15 local chapters of the organization, including two in Canada and one in Australia.
|God’s Closet founder Merryl Tschoepe stands with Bill McVay, Redding church pastor, at the May 4 "free shop day."
Photo by Ken Merz
“I thought: Why not 10 times that many?” said Maitland DiPinto, NAD Adventist Community Services (ACS) director for community engagement. After hearing about the program, DiPinto visited two local chapters and felt impressed by what he saw. “God’s Closet meets a real need, and it gets our members engaged in our community in a holistic way that makes a real impact,” he says.
Each local church chapter of God’s Closet hosts four “free shop day” events during the year, when parents and grandparents can select new and gently used children’s clothes, shoes, and bedding donated by individuals and businesses. A family pays an entrance fee of $1 to cover expenses, and then they can “shop” for a certain number of bags of clothes, depending on how much is available. People who come a day early to help sort items receive an extra bag of clothes. At every event, God’s Closet volunteers ask clients to fill out a registration card. The card asks if they would like more information about children’s programs and offers Bible studies and prayer.
“There are several people who come to our church as a result of God’s closet,” said Mary Jo Cannard, a member of Adventist Community church in Vancouver, Washington. “It’s a ministry that meets people’s needs rather than a ministry we do to try to reach people.”
Each congregation can tailor the event to fit their community’s needs and their church’s personality. For example, 30 Redding church members volunteered at the May 2016 event. They served a pancake breakfast, gave each mother a present, and distributed balloons and literature. As an extra gift, each family received one or two pairs of new kids’ pajamas.
DiPinto likes the way that community members are encouraged to volunteer alongside church members. At the most recent Redding event, 23 community people came to help — more than half of the people working to set up the event. “The church is building a relationship with the repeat volunteers,” he said.
The Ministry Expands
The NAD is currently working on plans to share the program throughout the division. In the past, Tschoepe trained new leaders individually — a time-consuming process — but soon online training videos will be available to inspire church members and give practical advice.
“It’s like a cooking show,” said DiPinto. “You show the final result and then you say, ‘Here’s how to do it. If you follow these steps, chances are you’ll have a successful ministry.’” He also plans to provide materials that interested church members can download, such as instructions and sample forms.
As the NAD acquires leadership of the ministry, Tschoepe plans to work closely with her local chapter, as well as help the division-wide organization in various ways. “There’s nothing like working for God,” said Tschoepe. “It has strengthened my faith. I have seen the miracles.”
One recent miracle took place in Redding. As an incentive for people to turn in the registration cards at each event, Tschoepe conducts a drawing for a food basket. “Before selecting a winner, I always pray over the cards,” she said.
When she delivered the basket to a local mother, the woman told her, “I was not surprised at all that I won. When I was standing in line filling out the card, I told God I needed the food. I have six children, and I’m in dire financial straights.”
“I got chills when she said this to me,” said Tschoepe. “When I see God at work, that straightens my faith!”
“Whenever we put God’s people working with the skills that God has given them together for the good of the community the church is blessed,” said Patty Marsh, ACS director for Upper Columbia Conference.
Bill Johnson, God’s Closet Redding volunteer added, “This is another opportunity to help the community, to help those who are in need and share the Gospel in a practical way.”
— Additional reporting by the NAD Office of Communication; watch a short video about God’s Closet outreach ministry, and visit www.godscloset for more information.