Image is everything and first impressions are lasting. As Americans we take many things for granted and live in a country where excess is desirable. We wake up in the morning, go to our closets, and make a choice on what we will wear that day. Some can afford to purchase something new if what they have doesn’t suit them; however there are more that do not have that privilege. Many Philadelphia-based families struggle on a daily basis just to make ends meet. While there are resources in place that provide assistance, community members are often met with obstacles that prevent them from accessing those services leaving them discouraged and dismayed. Having a clothing resource that does not require a referral and zero eligibility requirements gives families one less thing to worry about so they can concentrate on meeting other basic needs such as housing, employment, healthcare, and food. One such organization is working to do just that.
In 2011, Jill Aschkenasy witnessed a family’s Philadelphia home burn down leaving them with absolutely nothing. They were left devastated and destitute. Jill was compelled to do something to assist them so she immediately put out a call to action to her family, friends, and neighbors. Her call was met with an overwhelming outpouring of generous donations to this unknown family so that they could begin to rebuild their lives. But something profound emerged out of this tragedy… an idea was formed that would help many more families who were struggling with similar issues. Jill founded Our Closet a nonprofit organization that supplies much needed clothing to individuals and families in need by way of free pop-up shops in the city. She understands that there are more than one in four families in Philadelphia living in poverty that need basic services. She is aware that many government services require waiting periods, red tape, and lengthy processes that further complicate the delivery of benefits. Therefore Our Closet is dedicated to closing the accessibility gap for shoppers who use their services by eliminating any eligibility requirements and requiring no referrals.
Jill is very passionate when she speaks about the apparent need in Philadelphia. She believes that creating awareness about the plight of those living in disenfranchised neighborhoods where families live below the poverty level will help people understand the importance of this outreach.
Anisha Sinha is the Program Director for Our Closet who joined the organization in 2014 after working with LIFT-Philadelphia, one of Our Closet’s partners. She is pursuing a master’s in Public Administration and is a devoted member of the team. Like Jill she is equally committed to making sure that all of the shoppers who benefit from the donations are treated with respect and dignity. The organization currently has a warehouse in Philadelphia and two pop-up locations in West Philadelphia where clients can come and choose five items of clothing at no cost to them. Anisha splits her time between the warehouse and the pop-up shop, which is staffed by volunteers who un-pack and sort the clothing, display the clothing, greet the clients, assist them with selections, and wrap up the selections at the check out counter. You’ll find both Anisha and Jill with smiles in tow personally assisting the clients with their selections. This system provides the clients with a dignified experience that is rewarding to both the client and the volunteers. You need only to view the video and read the testimonials to learn about the mutual respect and gratitude resulting from their experiences.
Plans for Our Closet to expand to other areas of the city are in the works. We may soon see a mobile truck traveling to various neighborhoods to offer free clothing to communities across the city. Jill would like the public to know that they are looking forward to expanding operations in the city and that there are plans to engage even more individuals in this important work. She expressed the need for more committed groups of volunteers, partners, and supporters. In her words, “we are eager to form and build new partnerships so that collectively, we can better support community members.”
Our Closets civic engagement includes partnerships with LIFT-Philadelphia, PEC, The Shipley School, Camp Magar, Beth David Synagogue, Friends Central School, and the Haverford School. Clothing donation drives, sorting days, and social action events are just some of the activities that generate much needed resources to continue this important initiative. Those who wish to become involved as volunteers or organizations that want to provide resources or partnership opportunities can find information on Our Closet’s website at www.ourclosetpa.org.
Tanya Beckwith and Michael Tozzi’s ijazzglobal.com are proud supporters of ‘Our Closet’ and look to help families in our community see a better way of life!
Link to article: http://www.ijazzglobal.com/