I had the opportunity to shadow Center for Transforming Communities (CTC) Director, Amy Moritz, on a Friday afternoon in February in the South Memphis Shalom Zone. In the prior week I had begun learning about the community group capacity building and sustainable social change work that CTC engages in, so this opportunity to see the fruit of such labor was a welcomed one. Amy invited me to join her on a visit to the community’s Clothes Closet and we were sincerely welcomed by several volunteers, including Toni Hines who has a lead role in the operation of the Clothes Closet. Stepping further into the store, we could see several customers being escorted around the store and warmly assisted with selecting items. I could see that people were comfortable there and the volunteers were enthusiastic about the work they were doing. Ms. Hines gave us a tour, discussed daily operations, and shared with us some potential opportunities for growth.
The South Memphis Shalom Zone Community Clothes Closet is located on the property of Centenary United Methodist Church (UMC). Six churches constitute this Shalom Zone but Centenary UMC, Greater White Stone, and Greater New Salem are central to the operation of this service project. First conceptualized in August 2012, the Clothes Closet has been operating since June 2013 and has served 300 people. Community members are welcome to “shop” at the Clothing Closet on Monday or Friday between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. People from any neighborhood in Memphis can visit once per month and will be greeted by a volunteer to assist them with shopping for their one dress outfit, two tops, two bottoms and incidental items.
The work that most significantly impacts the community around the Clothes Closet is being noticed from afar. Donors include church members as well as unaffiliated individuals. Ms. Hines stated that they have donations waiting at the door or have “donations made by people who have just heard about what we do.” The Clothes Closet is also on a referral list for the local Red Cross, and as a result, this Shalom Zone has been able to assist families that needed clothing due to the tragedy of a fire. Although the Clothes Closet has mainly served people within the community of the project site, Ms. Hines expressed a desire to expand their reach as well as improve operations and add services.
Due to the efforts of the supporting churches, various donors and about 20 regular volunteers, those in need of clothing have a welcoming place to have their need met in South Memphis. Desiring to address more than just immediate needs, Ms. Hines and other volunteers are having intentional conversations about how to grow their services to meet the underlying needs of their patrons. This Shalom Zone hopes to be able to facilitate seminars for patrons focusing on topics like personal budgeting and how to get rights reinstated post incarceration.
Through this visit, I was able to see the Shalom principles in the work of those involved with the Clothes Closet and in the project itself. This shadowing experience gave me a greater appreciation for the capacity building support that CTC provides Shalom Zones in the Mid-South as well as the power of compassionate community group.