August 12, 2016

North Americans Embrace God’s Closet, a New Way to Share Clothing

, with the North American Division Office of Communication

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 an unusual used-clothing service that is now part of the ministry portfolio of the North American Division’s Adventist Community Services.

“I’m amazed at what God has done with this ministry,” said Merryl Tschoepe, who initiated God’s Closet. “This is very exciting!”

For decades, churches have distributed used clothing to people in need. Tschoepe built on that concept when she envisaged turning the experience into a fun and relationship-building event. Not only do families find clothes for their children at a bargain price of $1, but they also find friendship and spiritual support.God’s Closet founder Merryl Tschoepe standing with Bill McVay, pastor of the church in Redding, California, at a "free shop day" on May 4. (Ken Merz / NAD)

Each local church chapter of God’s Closet hosts four “free shop day” events a year, allowing parents and grandparents to 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.

“God’s Closet reaches the community and it costs churches basically nothing,” Tschoepe said. “People are so grateful. Times are tough, and clothes are expensive.”

At every event, God’s Closet volunteers ask clients to fill out a registration card. The card asks whether they would like more information about children’s programs and contains an invitation for 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 church members in Redding, California, volunteered at a May 2016 event co-organized by Tschoepe, who now lives there. They served a pancake breakfast, gave each mother a gift, and distributed balloons and religious literature. As an extra gift, each family received one or two pairs of new children’s pajamas.

As many as 600 people have attended a God’s Closet event. Currently there are 15 local churches involved in the organization, including two in Canada and one in Australia.

Maitland DiPinto, director for community engagement with the North American Division’s Adventist Community Services, has visited two U.S. chapters of God’s Closet and was impressed with what he saw.

“I thought, ‘Why not 10 times that many?’” DiPinto said. “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.”

DiPinto likes the way that community members are encouraged to volunteer alongside church members. At the 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,” DiPinto said.

Adventist Community Services now is working on plans to share the program throughout the division. In the past, Tschoepe trained new leaders individually in 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.

Tschoepe intends 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,” Tschoepe said. “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 conducted 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 straits.”

“I got chills when she said this to me,” Tschoepe said. “When I see God at work, that straightens my faith.”