CHAMBERSBURG – When visitors arrive at Little Daisy’s Closet (256 S. Main St.), they are given three plastic bags. One is reserved for kids clothes. The other two can be filled from a bountiful selection of donated clothing and other essentials. True to its name, this cramped space could be a wealthy person’s walk-in closet, but the purpose of this room is to clothe an entire community. There is a table by the door to get people checked in, but there is no cash register. Everything here is free.
The “no-cost clothing ministry” held a grand opening ribbon-cutting celebration on October 28, and it is open to the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon until 4. Within those eight hours, Little Daisy’s Closet will serve about 150 families each week with a line extending into the alley alongside the building.
“We try to meet the need,” says John McCrae, founder and president of Little Daisy’s Closet. The organization is officially a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but it is also described as a “clothing ministry” and a “community outreach.” “We offer no-cost clothing, personal care items, kitchen and housewares, pet food, and we do boxed food for them as well.”
John and his wife Kathy, along with about 10 other volunteers, collect and organize the mountains of donated items. The items are then made available to “anyone who has fallen on hard times, anyone who needs anything. We’re here for the community.”
“It’s quite the experience,” says John. “We hear quite the stories. People trying to make ends meet and all that.”
“It’s very fulfilling – especially during these hard times,” he says. “We hear a lot of sad stories, but most people are very grateful when they leave.”
McCrae to God: “You got the wrong guy!”
For John and Kathy, both recent retirees, Little Daisy’s Closet was a surprise “second act.” Their original plan was to spend their golden years in a travel trailer on the move. In a testimonial available on their website and print brochures, John tells how when he retired from his career, he also pulled back from his leadership duties at his church.
“My brain needed a rest,” he writes. For John, this newfound quiet was an opportunity to listen. The testimony continues: “God spoke a vision in my heart to start a free clothing ministry.”
To which he replied: “Double-check the list – you got the wrong guy!”
John’s concerns were more about logistics than the call itself. Would the people show up? If they showed up, would he have anything to offer them?
“I had this nightmare that we’d have 40 people in line, and we’d have two pairs of shoes and a pair of pants,” he says.
He posted about the plan on Facebook to see if there was either a need for a program like this or support for it within the community. The answer on both counts was a resounding yes. One friend contributed 100 snack bags with juice and cookies. A lady that he had never seen before showed up with 15 bags of clothes to get “that thing” started.
“It was about a six-week wrestling match with Him,” says John. “Obviously, He knew what was best for me.”
Little Daisy’s Closet – named after the couple’s rescue dog – quickly garnered lots of media attention including The Shippensburg News-Chronicle, Franklin County Free Press, News Talk 103.7, Froggy 98.1, ABC27 News and Shippensburg University Television – SUTV.
Kathy recalls that on the day that ABC27 News was coming to do a story on them, the shelves were still bare. “I just prayed, and about 10 minutes later, people were lined up on our street to unload donations, and it’s not stopped. It’s been so awesome. Everybody in the community has just been so giving.”
“We served 98 families that day, the second day we were open,” says John.
“At one point our house was filled,” says Kathy of the ministry’s explosive growth out of the gate. Donations were stacked in tubs from floor to ceiling with a pathway between them. John and Kathy each had a seat cleared, and Daisy laid down wherever she could. When donations began arriving – literally – by truckload, they knew they needed to think bigger.
By mid-November the Main Street location is nearly filled to capacity, and they’re already looking at the next step.
“We’re looking for our forever home,” says John. “We have a couple of prospects, so hopefully one of those will pan out for us.”
“We’ll get you what you need”
Little Daisy’s Closet may have started as a clothing ministry, but what the McCraes really offer to visitors is a fresh start. They will do everything in their power to answer any call for help whether it’s families in need or people experiencing domestic violence.
“We don’t limit ourselves to the times we’re open,” says John. Whenever possible, he will reply, “Come right over, and we’ll get you what you need.”
“We get calls 24/7 now,” says Kathy, “and now that it’s cold, we’re going to be getting a lot more, so we’re trying to stock up on blankets, sheets, comfort-kinds-of-stuff – because the homeless do need those. Winter coats – we definitely need winter coats for everybody.”
They especially need boys clothes. “Boys just wear them until they’re worn out,” says John.
Little Daisy’s Closet recently announced that they have partnered with The Christmas Project as a fiscal sponsor. The Christmas Project is run by Kathy Hewitt of Roxbury that helps families in need during the holiday season. “Last year, I think she helped over 300 families,” says John. However, because she isn’t officially a 501 nonprofit organization, she hasn’t been able to accept direct donations of money.
“We take any monetary donations we get for her, they’re segregated into a separate account, and then we offer that to her,” says John. “We don’t own any of those funds. We basically just partner with her to help her ministry because we know that – this year in particular, but the last couple of years – the need has definitely gone up.”
The partnership allows community members to make financial contributions directly to The Christmas Project through Little Daisy’s Closet’s website.
They also assist with WellSpan Health’s reentry program for people coming out of hospitals or jails or are homeless. Kathy says that these kits are more substantial than the plastic bag system they use at the Main Street location.
“You will get a cloth duffle bag or suitcase or something,” she says. “How would feel walking out of a prison with a white garbage bag over your shoulder? It’s bad enough that you have to walk out of a place like that, so I make sure that they all have a half-decent bag to put their things in to go.”
Little Daisy’s Closet is also an opportunity to fulfill community service requirements.
She adds: “We treat everybody like our family, you know? Nobody is frowned upon.”
“It’s a judgment-free zone,” says John.
“We don’t know what these people are going through unless they tell us, and we do not ask,” says Kathy.
While Little Daisy’s Closet does require an ID upon arrival, and they do ask a few basic questions, they stress that this is for two specific reasons. First, people are only allowed to visit once per week. Second, they don’t care what the answers to the questions are, but grant-giving agencies do. Having basic information about how many people are being helped each week can make it easier for Little Daisy’s Closet to qualify for funding that is allocated for specific causes.
“It’s so they know the money is going to a worthy cause – not some guy that’s opening a golf club,” says John. “We don’t share that information with anybody except for the grants.”
People can donate physical items Tuesday and Thursday from 9-4 and Saturday from 9-12. Financial donations can be made on their website: www.littledaisyscloset.org. They are always looking for volunteers to help sort through the donations and help them get to the people who need them.
[Main image caption: Kathy and John McCrae pose inside Little Daisy’s Closet, a no-cost clothing ministry.]