Central UMC’s free clothing bazaar a success
Editor's Note: In August 2020, the Upper New York Conference will publish the Summer issue of the Advocate, which focuses on Keeping Connected. In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, churches have had to be creative in keeping connected, especially when they were unable to hold in-person worship services for months. The story below is one example of how an Upper New York Church creatively connected with its community. Keep watching UNY Conference communication platforms for more stories like this when we release the next issue of the Advocate.
Wracks of summer clothing—women’s tank tops, sundresses, skirts and shorts, little girls’ and boys’ shorts and t-shirts, men’s short sleeve button-down shirts and shorts lined Central UMC’s parking lot in Endicott, NY, on the sweltering hot and humid Saturday, July 25. In addition to clothing, there were sneakers, sandals, loafers, and heels in all sizes for adults and children. There were handbags and purses, sheets and bedding. All offered to the community for free.
Central UMC pastor, the Rev. Michelle Bogue-Trost said, “It’s like an open-air market that you would see in Britain.” This event was what Central UMC promoted as a free clothing bazaar. Since the shutdown due to COVID-19, Central UMC’s clothing center was “bursting at the seams,” Rev. Bogue-Trost added. People were looking for places to donate gently used clothing as they were cleaning out their closets and many places like the Rescue Mission and Goodwill were not accepting donations. Central UMC gladly welcomed donations—dozens upon dozens of donations of high-quality items.
How was the church going to safely offer the nice clothing that was piling up to the community in need surrounding the church? Initially, the church would have a volunteer “shop” in the clothing center to donate clothing for families in need; for example, one family suffered from a house fire and lost everything.
Church members knew there were many more people who could benefit from nice clothing. The clothing center had been one of Central’s most successful missions for over 40 years. Before the pandemic, the clothing center always had members of the community coming in for clothes and they hadn’t had the opportunity to do so since March!
Enter, Joe Frega, co-chair of Central UMC’s Mission Team—he came up with the free clothing bazaar idea
Rev. Brogue-Trost said, “This is Joe’s mastermind…he brings so much fresh energy to the church’s mission work.”
Joe said, “We’re relatively new transplants here…we have been here for two years and landed at this church because of its missional values. I have been doing mission work for many years serving meals with BJ Norrix at Brown Memorial Church (in Syracuse’s South Side).”
Joe considers himself “an expert at shepherding volunteers and assigning them tasks.”
When he thought of the idea of doing a clothing bazaar for the community, Central Mission Team’s Co-Chair, Maggie Hungerford said, “Clothing sat for days before being sorted in the clothing center, which had always been the model so not much needed to be changed in order to make sure the clothing was free of COVID particles. Bringing the clothing outdoors was a great idea that Joe had.”
The clothing was sorted by volunteers wearing masks and gloves. The clothing bazaar event was promoted at the church’s Thursday-night Shepherd Suppers (which are offered through curbside pickup since the COVID pandemic). The latest supper served 136 people.
Joe assured that this event was safe for the shoppers. He said that his motto is to overprepare.
Community members had to call the church and sign up for a 15-minute timeslot between 11 and 3. They had to wear masks and were given disposable gloves to wear as so their hands wouldn’t contact the clothing. They were also given a large reusable shopping bag (that was donated by Weis grocery store). Each member had 15 minutes to go through the clothing racks and follow signage to the bazaar exit. Free hot dogs and water were served by the exit.
Central UMC had 19 volunteers working in shifts at the free clothing bazaar…all wearing masks and gloves.
The event flowed seamlessly and steadily with no congestion, even with some walk-up families. Volunteers set up chairs in the shade for guests who waited for their turn to shop.
At this event, 37 people were able to fill bags with beautiful clothing, shoes, and accessories for their families. One 89-year old gentleman said he was shopping for himself, his wife, his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.
You couldn’t see the guests’ smiles through their masks, but you could see the smiles in their eyes. As one guest was putting on her gloves, she said, “I was wondering how you were going to pull this off…it must have taken a lot of planning. You thought of everything.”
Laurel O’Conner, Central UMC’s Associate Pastor of Faith & Action and volunteer at the free clothing bazaar, nodded, and said, “Yes, it took a lot of planning.”
The planning not only resulted in a successful event for the Endicott, NY community, but also, presented a model of how churches can offer free clothing to their communities in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. People are eager to volunteer. Communities are in need now more than ever.
Events like Central UMC’s free clothing bazaar can inspire volunteers to be the hands and feet of Jesus. And such events are an awesome way to bring Christ’s love to the community.
If your church has also navigated through the COVID-19 pandemic and has been able to serve your community, we’d love to hear about it. Email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org.