Learn about Our Closet – Powered by JFCS’ Mission, History, Team, and Merger with JFCS
Our Closet – Powered by JFCS is a volunteer-driven program with the goal of providing the basic need of clothing to vulnerable individuals and their families throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. We distribute clothing free of charge by operating “pop-up shops” as well as providing emergency response packages to community members in crisis. There are no eligibility requirements to receive clothing. Our goal is to meet a basic need for community members so that they can better focus on handling other stressors in their lives, such as securing a steady source of income or finding permanent housing solutions, with confidence.
Our Closet’s approach is two-pronged; we rely heavily on the support of volunteers to sustain our operations. As volunteer-driven program, we strive to engage the larger community through education and exposure, and hope to inspire a sense of civic duty amongst our dedicated volunteer base. It is our belief that the Our Closet experience will motivate our volunteers to become leaders and influencers in the anti-poverty space.
Executive Director Jill Aschkenasy founded Our Closet in 2011 in response to a crisis she witnessed that year, a Philadelphia family’s house had burned down, and they were in need of the most basic items to regain stability during an undoubtedly frightening and stressful time. Hearing this, Jill reached out to her network to help this family, and the response she received was overwhelming. Donations poured in from friends, family members, and neighbors to help this unknown family rebuild their home. Jill founded Our Closet to continue to provide support to the many families and individuals whose stories remain untold.
In 2011, Jill started Our Closet with one partner and one pop-up location. That year, Our Closet distributed approximately 15 bags of clothing and worked with 20 volunteers. Today, Our Closet operates nine locations with seven pop-ups occurring every month. Each month we receive 70 bags of donated clothes and work with 130 volunteers and distribute 25,000 pieces of clothing to over 350 individuals each month.
Founder & Advisory Committee Chair
Jill Aschkenasy founded Our Closet in 2011 after seeing a need for easily accessible services providing clothing to community members in need. She is a graduate of University of Wisconsin at Madison and Benjamin Cardozo School of Law. Prior to her role with Our Closet, she was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan. Her leadership has taken Our Closet from simply an idea to a constantly expanding successful network of clothing pop up shops throughout the city.
Melanie London oversees Our Closet’s programming and operations, and works with the OC team to develop a strategic plan for growing the organization. A veteran of non-profits, Melanie is passionate about Our Closet’s mission of providing the basic need of clothing to vulnerable Philadelphians in a warm, welcoming and dignified manner. She previously served as Director of Community Partnerships at Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, and prior to that worked in marketing and communications in New York City, in the non-profit, digital media and entertainment fields.
Shauna Ekezie joined the Our Closet team due to her passion to serve members of the community needing assistance. With a background in fashion design, Shauna found purpose in providing the basic need of clothing to individuals and their families. Prior to joining Our Closet, she was a coordinator for two similar dressing programs, Career Wardrobe, and the Second Time Around store, supplying professional attire for those seeking employment and casual clothing for those experiencing vulnerable situations.
LaVerne Wilson is the driver for Our Closet, and is responsible for preparing and transporting clothing for pop-ups, receiving and delivering donations, managing the warehouse, preparing packages for emergency situations, answering phone calls from shoppers, partners and donors, and so much more. LaVerne started out as a dedicated volunteer and joined Our Closet as an employee in August of 2017. Before becoming part of the OC team, LaVerne worked at Career Wardrobe/The Wardrobe Boutique. In addition to her work, she is also a loving wife, mother and grandmother.
Merger with JFCS
Since its inception in 2011, Our Closet has seen an unrelenting need from the Philadelphia community for its services. With three staff members and a corps of 130 volunteers, Our Closet’s capacity and resources was unable to keep pace with the region’s need.
In 2016, Our Closet began exploring the possibility of merging with a larger entity in response to the organization’s rapid growth and reached out to JFCS.
The merge with Our Closet presents JFCS with an opportunity to offer programing that is very core to the JFCS mission, to support our community during the times they need it most with a basic human need.
JFCS, founded in 1855, is a well-established Philadelphia nonprofit operating in four locations throughout the region, and provides Our Closet with the necessary support and infrastructure to sustain its expansion to reach more in need, while growing in a thoughtful and strategic direction. The merger was finalized November 2016.