Nonprofit improves lives through shopping

Kids' Closet provides clothes for families in need in Germantown

May 6, 2012

Germantown - The inside of one large room at Columbia St. Mary's in Germantown is not a doctor's office or a waiting room. Surprisingly, it's a clothing store.

Summer clothes are hung up by size, sandals and sneakers neatly line a rack in the corner of the room and spring jackets and rain coats hang ready for a new owner.

Although it resembles a thrift store, it's not. It's Our Kids' Closet, a nonprofit organization that provides gently used children's clothing to families in need at no cost. Although the clothes are donated, the store provides families with the shopping experience.

"We tried to make our kids closet to look like a little store and make it as welcoming and helpful as possible," said co-director Louise Gagne.

Our Kids' Closet was started in 2007. In 2011, the organization had 135 registered families and helps around 25 to 30 families per month, said Our Kids' Closet co-director Dyanne VanHecke.

"Sometimes all people need is a little bit of help," VanHecke said. "It doesn't have to be this grand thing."

Our Kids' Closet, sponsored by Columbia St. Mary's and St. Boniface Parish, is open from 6 to 8 p.m. the first Thursday of the month and 9 to 11 a.m. the first Saturday of every month. On these days, families can come and fill two bags worth of clothing items they may need. Families are allowed to shop four times a year. Clothing is predominantly for children, however, there are a few maternity items, as well as blankets that are donated by various organizations including the Richfield Lioness Club.

Donation made easy

All of the clothing items are donated and the organization is always in need of more as items fly off the shelves particularly in September, October and November when the season changes. Pajamas, undergarments and socks need to be purchased brand new. These are items that go very quickly, VanHecke said. Shoes and coats are also items Our Kids' Closet needs consistently, as they are more expensive and children grow out of them quickly.

"Shoes are a big-ticket item," VanHecke said. "Children are in and out of them in a year."

Making donations is easy. A 24-hour donation bin is situated outside St. Boniface Church, 3906 W. Mequon Road. Monetary donations are also accepted that go toward purchasing new pajamas, socks and undergarments. Any donations that are not used in Our Kids' Closet are donated to Goodwill.

One idea, endless help

Our Kids' Closet was the idea of Charlene Malson, who has run the St. Boniface food bank for years. She realized that some families served not only needed food, they needed clothes as well. The idea of a free store for children was born. VanHecke and past co-director Ann Marie Burns ran with the idea and worked to bring it life. VanHecke attributes Burns' keen business sense to the organization's beginning.

Finding a location was the biggest hurdle for organizers as the parish did not have room for a clothing area. By enlisting the help of a Germantown leadership group, Columbia St. Mary's came into the mix and supplies the location for free.

Volunteers commit to help

Our Kids' Closet is entirely run by volunteers.

"We couldn't do what we do without our tireless volunteers and our generous donors from people who donate clothes and money," Gagne said. "We need that support and we certainly get it."

Volunteers are always needed to assist during the two shopping days every month, as well as from 6 to 8 p.m. the third Thursday of the month to sort clothing and prepare the store for the next month. There is no time commitment for volunteers and VanHecke said any amount of time is appreciated.

"Our volunteers are what make this run," she said.

For information on Our Kids' Closet, visit

Our Kids' Closet

WHAT: nonprofit organization supplying Germantown families in need with clothing

WHEN: 6 to 8 p.m. the first Thursday of the month; 9 to 11 a.m. the first Saturday of every month

WHERE: Columbia St. Mary's, N112 W15415 Mequon Road

HOW: must be low-income family; however, no eligibility questions are asked

CONTACT: (262) 844-8554,

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