Little more than a year ago, Linda Law found herself in need of help. That need led her to The Clothes Closet in Ringling, a converted gymnasium operated by the Church of Christ on the south end of town. After she got back on her feet, Law decided it was her turn to help others and joined sisters Retha Allen and Lavonia Dillard as a volunteer for the benevolent organization.
“I needed some help and I went down there and they helped me out and I saw what all they did for other people and decided I’d help them, too,” Law said.
Allen said Law is pretty much a full-time worker at The Clothes Closet, driving by daily to check the outdoor drop-off box for donations. All three women are in charge of sorting through the donated materials — most of which is clothing — and hanging it on racks or putting it in different rooms for distribution. And, twice a month, they open their doors to allow those in need access to the free clothes and other items.
“When I go by and I see that there’s stuff there, I put it inside and if I have time, I’ll sort it out,” Law said. “Sometimes I spend three to four hours there, and some days I don’t work at all, so it’s hard to tell just how much time I spend there. I go down early in the morning on days I’m going to work and turn the fans on so it doesn’t get too hot.”
The Clothes Closet was started approximately 15 years ago by Dillard’s daughter, Donna Butler. At the time, it was housed in the old church parsonage, which quickly became too small for the operation.
Butler said when she was in college, the social club she belonged to did similar work, visiting lower-income areas of Oklahoma City to distribute clothing to needy families. She had heard about the Maxwell Avenue Church of Christ clothes closet in Ardmore and visited with organizers there to find out how to get one started in her hometown.
The Ardmore church actually supplied Butler with the initial clothing donation to get started, but “it’s been local donations ever since,” she said.
The Clothes Closet is open to the public from 1 to 3 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of the month, and from 60 to 80 people come through each time the doors are open. And on those days, they are met with the same familiar, friendly faces of the women who are ready to help in any way they can.
The clothing is free to those who need it, and the organizers insist that it will not be resold by those who take it. Mostly, everyone who takes the clothes respects the rules and only takes what they really need.
“You love to help all of them, but every once in a while there’s always somebody that makes you think it’s worth it,” Butler said. “There’ll be a lady that comes back and says ‘My kids wouldn’t have school clothes if it weren’t for you.’ That’s the people we are really happy to help.”
Butler was heavily involved in the operation of The Clothes Closet until she opened her business, The Rain Tree, in Ringling and turned over her duties to her mother, who recruited her sister, Allen, to help do the volunteer work.
Allen said she, Dillard and Law keep a close eye on the operations, making sure all the clothes are sorted and hung up, and keep track of those who come in to get the clothes twice a month. New people are asked to register their families, listing clothing sizes so the women can help them find the right items. And everyone signs in each time before they get clothes to make sure no one gets more than their fair share.
Luckily, there’s been no lack of donations from the community to keep the place stocked. Allen said they used to take household donations like mattresses and furniture, until they ran out of places to store it. And locals are always ready to lend a hand when the ladies need something, like extra clothes racks.
“Joe Roberts, the welding man in Ringling, every time I say I need a rod, he’ll weld me a couple and doesn’t charge me anything,” Dillard said. “But now we don’t have room for any more rods.
“Everybody knows they’re going to get the best when they come here, because we’ll cull out everything that’s missing a button or two, or that’s a little bit torn,” she said, adding that nothing goes to waste.
Clothing that’s stained or dirty is kept around for mechanics, farmers, plumbers or oil men who come looking for “rags.” Other clothes are bagged up and given to other organizations in need, like the Faith Mission in Wichita Falls, Texas. School clothes have been donated to the Tipton Children’s Home, the Westview Boys Home at Hollis and the Ardmore Community Children’s Shelter, Allen said.
Magazines and books have been donated to the local senior citizens center and excess toys have been donated to the Ringling Christmas Parade to be given out to children by Santa.
“We just furnish everything that we can,” Dillard said. “We’ve also got a burnout area where we keep dishes and toasters and things like that, pillows and blankets, for families whose homes have burned down.”
People who need help come from Waurika, Healdton and Wilson and “up as far as Ratliff City. Word gets around and they come,” Dillard said.
Although it can get hot in the summer and cold in winter months in the old building, the women brave the elements to make sure their benevolent operation is ready when the people need it.
“It’s just a good thing, helping people out,” Law said. “Anybody that needs it, we’re there for them, just like they were there for me.”