Eudora woman lends a helping hand to those in need
"I was bored one day and looking around on Craigslist and saw an ad from a woman looking for some clothing for her teenage daughter," Christine Zimmer said. "I thought I could help her, so I started posting my own ads and asking around. And before I knew it, I had a lot of clothing to give to this woman."
And thus His Hands Clothing Closet was born. Zimmer and her husband, Paul, started the free clothing project in the fall of 2009.
"It started kind of slow last year. We were really desperate for winter clothing to give to people," Christine said. "I was driving all over the place picking up coats and boots. This year that's different. We almost have more clothing than we know what to do with."
Clothing of all sizes and styles has taken over the Zimmers' home; bags of unsorted shirts and pants sit on the porch waiting to be picked through and boxes of out-of-season items are stacked so high in the garage that the car barely fits in. There is also a small storage unit in town that is filled to the brim with donations.
"It's a full-time job, keeping up with everything," Christine Zimmer said.
She sorts through all donations, picking out the items in the best condition and setting aside those that need special stain-treatment or minor repairs. Everything that is donated gets used by somebody, even if it isn't by His Hands.
"If we can't give something away, then we give take it to the Planet Aid donation site or another helping organization," she said.
Even the items too tattered to be worn go to use. They're donated to the Humane Society.
The Zimmers rely on donations to keep the closet open. No one is turned away and no limits are placed on how often or how much people can take. The service is also 100 percent free.
"Everyone is having to budget these days. Everyone has to pick and choose where the money goes," Christine Zimmer said. "I hate calling people poor or needy. I just want to help people save money because that's what's important right now. If coming here and getting a coat can save some money to put gas in the family car or food on the table, I'm happy."
That's not to say that some people don't help the closet in other ways. Some help out for a few hours here and there, some return a few months later, after their situation changed, to donate some clothes.
The Zimmers have served people from all over the Kansas City metro area and beyond. They've had people come in from Topeka to pick up clothing after a fire and they've had families from Independence, Mo., meet them to take home boxes of clothing. Beginning this week, they will be taking over the clientele from the De Soto Multi-Service Center, which has had to stop clothing services due to budget constraints.
Getting the closet up and running hasn't all been easy though. The Zimmers are operating solo, with no sponsorship from any outside agency and with no regular helpers.
"It's been pretty tough at times," Christine said. "There have been more than a few times when we wanted to quit, but every time we see someone leave with a smile on his/her face, it's worth it."
"Just knowing that we're helping kids go to school without the fear of being picked on for wearing shabbier clothes is a great feeling," Paul Zimmer said.
Someday, the Zimmers dream of moving His Helping Hands out of the extra bedroom in their basement and into a building of its own. Paul Zimmer is currently working with an accountant to become designated as a 501 c(3) nonprofit organization.
Because of their limited space and because they want clients to be able to maintain their anonymity, Paul and Christine do their best to schedule appointments for both donors and shoppers.
"We've found that it's really best for everyone — the shoppers, the donors, us and our neighbors — if people come at a scheduled time," Christine said. "It usually takes about an hour to go through everything and find all that a family wants or needs and with an appointment. They don't feel rushed or worried that the person next to them is going to take all the 'good' stuff."
To make an appointment to donate to or shop at His Helping Hands, call Christine Zimmer at (785) 542-3528. The items most needed are undergarments and boys' clothing, along with clothing hangers and laundry detergent.
"We're going to keep working at this because this need is here in our community," Christine said. "It's important to help now, at Christmas time, but it's also important to help all year-round because the need is there year-round."