Clara’s Closet supports thousands of refugees
Clara’s Closet is far more than a closet—this clothing, bedding, hygiene, and home goods ministry takes up the entire basement of Buffalo: Central Park UMC. Set up like a department store, racks upon racks of clothing are arranged by gender and size, including a large room dedicated to baby and children’s clothing. There is also a room of particularly trendy clothing with tweens and teens in mind.
And there is a storage room with bins of clothing in every category available to replenish the racks when needed.
Started in 1999, Clara’s Closet is named after Central Park UMC parishioner and pioneer of this ministry, Clara Small (1929-2017).
Clara’s Closet is open every Wednesday and Thursday by appointment only from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. - and is entirely run by volunteers. Most of the clients are refugees and financially disadvantaged members of the community. All items are free. Clients can come for whatever they need up to four times a year. Appointments are made so that the client(s) can be privately and individually supported by a kind volunteer. Nearly a dozen agencies connect refugees and other families in need to Clara’s Closet.
Diane Thurlow and her husband Ken are the Co-Chairs of Clara’s Closet. The team serving the community of Clara’s Closet is made up of United Methodists, those of other denominations, and the unchurched.
Diane said, “We are totally blessed! Our volunteers are such good people who want to help.”
This ministry helps the volunteers as much as it lifts the spirits of the clients. During our visit, they had a room decorated and special food to celebrate one of the volunteers that was returning after being out sick.
Ken said, “This ministry has taught me patience and how to be nonjudgmental. I have come to love working with the refugee community.”
Clara’s Closet typically has about 14 appointments a day and they service about 120 people a week if you include all the family members that each client is shopping for.
Their very first question to every client is, “What do you need?” With a warm smile, the team then directs the clients to exactly what they are looking for.
Recently there has been an influx of Ukrainian and Afghanistan refugees who do not have proper winter attire. Earlier this month, one man came in with flip flops when it was 30 degrees outside. Clara’s Closet was able to help him get the proper attire for the harsh Buffalo winter. When they are low on donations of items they know their clients need, such as winter clothing and boots, the team at Clara’s Closet will often go shopping to replenish their racks and shelves.Since the start of the COVID pandemic, there has been an exponential increased need for hygiene products and diapers.Joe is a volunteer who sets up children’s clothing racks. He said, “We are in desperate need of sizes 4T to size 16 in children’s clothing.” Clothing donated in these sizes are not often the best quality because kids of these ages generally ware out their clothing quickly. Clara’s Closet only puts out clothing that is new or gently used. Any donations they cannot use, they find another compassion and justice organization that can use or recycle them.
The 2022 Christmas storm that swept through Buffalo also impacted many of Clara’s Closet clients. The ministry has distributed hundreds of blankets to their clients in recent weeks and now are “sold out.”
The Upper New York Conference was awarded $10,000 from the United Methodist Committee for Relief (UMCOR) to help those in the Buffalo community impacted by this storm.
Twenty-five hundred dollars of this fund was distributed to Clara’s Closet to help care for the needs of neighbors that may often go “unseen” by aid given during an emergency.
“Clara’s Closet reminds all of us of that God has given us an abundant life to share with others. Might you have two coats you can share with the one that has none (Luke 3:11)? Or might you have an extra hour to welcome the refugee (Matthew 25:35)? The kingdom of God is expressed most beautifully when we live into sharing that abundance with our neighbors and welcome them to share their abundance with us. Let us continue to honor Clara Small by sharing the abundant love of God with all today and every day, ” said Kristina Clark, Upper New York Conference Director of Missional Engagement.
Click here to learn more about Clara’s Closet.