COAL CITY – Five years ago, Gordon and Cathy Milne decided to open a free clothes closet out of the attic of the First Methodist Church in Coal City.
Not long after, they moved to a bigger space on Broadway Street, and four years ago they ended up at their current, 10,000-square-foot building, at 130 E. Blackstone St. in Coal City, where the Coal City Clothes Closet is able to offer a number of services to Grundy County residents.
“It started strictly as clothes and shoes,” Gordon said. “Then by mid-November someone brought us some blankets and we realized that yes, it’s cold and people need blankets, too. From there it grew to household items.”
Cathy said she and her husband were passionate to help those in need, no matter what their need was.
“We personally have struggled in the past,” Cathy said. “We know what it is like to struggle.”
She said the more they talked to people the more she realized that people needed to be helped.
For Harry Jensen of Coal City, the Coal City Clothes Closet is the reason his grandchildren are able to participate in school activities. Jensen and his wife have custody of their grandkids.
“I come here for gloves, hats, snowpants, as well as basic day-to-day items like toilet paper and Kleenex,” he said. “By saving the money on these items I can spend money on things they need and for school.”
Jensen and his wife – who are retired and living on a tight budget – are raising their grandchildren without child support.
“The most expensive thing with the grandkids is clothes,” Jensen said. “Buying them or getting some here is the difference in them being able to join things, things cost a lot of money.”
Cathy said many of the people who come for help are just like Jensen; they have worked or are working, and are just not making enough to get by.
The Milnes also help those who are homeless.
“The Lord loves them like he loves me,” she said. “We’ve all made bad choices, and we are here to give them a helping hand to move forward.”
Providing items for the community three days a week is a full-time job for the Milnes, one they don’t get paid for.
“We’re 100 percent volunteer,” Gordon said. “We keep the place open with grants and donations.”
When items are donated, they go through a sorting process that first divides them into mens, womens, juniors, girls and boys. They are sent to a second sorting room where items are divided by sizes, and eventually make their way to the floor.
It takes about 16 volunteers to operate the store every Monday, Wednesday and Friday – the three days a week it is open.
The store saw a rise in donations after the Diamond and Coal City tornado, but donations are needed year-round.
Kids clothes, as well as diapers and food, are in high demand, but the organization will take any donation except old tube TVs.
In addition to the clothing and household items, the store also provides food, gas cards and even rides to those who need to get to appointments – all at no charge.
“We’ve given rides to people who need to get to social services,” Gordon said. “They are all in Ottawa and there is no transportation to get them there.”
The store hopes to raise the money this year to get a 12-passenger van, as well as the funds to be able to pay a homeless person in the community to drive it so it can benefit more people.
The Milnes’ also work closely with the Coal City schools and provided more than $2,000 in school supplies in 2013.
There also is a lunch program with the schools to help those students in need. When a student gets to a negative $5 balance on their lunch account, they are suppose to be served cheese sandwiches until the parent puts more money in their account.
But Gordon doesn’t approve of that plan, so he has an agreement with the lunch programs that they will pay for the lunches of students without the money.
But its not just lunches that are the Milne’s concern. They make sure the kids are able to eat on the weekends, too.
“Every Friday we deliver 100 bags that have 10 food items in them so they have something to eat at home on the weekend.” Gordon said
“We try to help people who fall through the cracks.”
Those in need are not screened or asked for proof of income at the closet. He said it’s hard enough for them to walk through the door and ask for help.
“We have faith in Jesus Christ and are guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit,” Gordon said. “If Jesus sends someone through the door we’re going to help them.”
The Coal City Clothes Closet is accepting clothing and household donations during its open hours or in a drop bin on the north side of the building when its closed.
Cathy said the greatest need is financial donations or gas cards, which can be dropped off during their open hours or mailed to their address.
“We operate on a slim budget and don’t carry over much at the end of the year,” she said.
Coal City Clothes Closet130 BlackstoneCoal City, IL
Hours of operation:Monday: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.Wednesday: 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.Friday: 10 a.m. to noon