I get to work Thursdays at a job I love as volunteer coordinator for Maggie Lee’s Closet: a fabulous and free children’s clothing boutique in a basement room of The Highland Center in Shreveport, Louisiana. Renovations to the space began a year ago and even before the paint could dry, gently used clothing donations came pouring in. The closet is recycling in its most beautiful form; people give gently worn kids clothes to those who desperately need them. We fill in essentials like uniforms, socks and undies through monetary donations (the beautiful Briery girls on the left along with friends Georgia, Anna & Sally) held a lemon & loom stand and raised close to $60.00 for MLC!)Thanks to Moonbot Studios’ brilliant mural, clothing donations and hundreds of volunteer hours the place sparkles like a high-end boutique. And I get the glorious job of helping kids shop and watching deeply relieved parents check an item off of their burden lists.
Last Thursday a volunteer Maggieleesta and I had the privilege of outfitting two kids who had recently lost everything in a rental house fire. While Beth helped the youngest with uniforms and play clothes, I loaded up big brother with things he would need this Fall. I am acutely aware that a loud white woman holding up boxers and bellowing, “these gonna work?” may be seen as embarrassing to some so I try to be discreet with the undertreasures. Try. In this case I just pointed him in the general direction of the drawers and told him to grab what he needed. The eighth grader was humble, hesitant to take anything and truly grateful. Kids like that can have last penny. I LOVE serving polite young people and have met throngs of them in this endeavor.
After taking my client next door to Men’s Gear for khakis that would fit, (sometimes our eighth graders are grown men) I got to know the single Mom and hear a little bit about her story. She told me that the best clothes her kids had were the uniforms she had received from MLC during Khakifest last month. Then the fire happened. When I asked how the blaze started, she answered in a matter of fact tone. She plugged an extension cord into a rarely used bedroom outlet and went to the kitchen. When she returned the room was full of smoke. She grabbed her boys, called 911 and got out. With just the clothes on their backs. Now a few weeks into school her family was left with nothing. “We’re gonna make it though. We’re gonna make it.” She repeated in a calm, persevering tone like this was clearly not the biggest challenge she had ever faced.
While I listened to this woman who lost the little she had to begin with I was struck by her composure. In just a few days she had taken steps to find a new home for her children and replace some furniture. Today she would secure uniforms and wash those the boys had been wearing which still smelled of smoke. While I was enthralled in the survival story, Beth was on the other side of the closet having the real fun. In full-on personal shopper mode she stationed herself in front of the size ten tops, offered shirt after shirt to the younger brother and tried desperately to elicit feedback. Any feedback. Think: help me help you. The distracted little guy was tunneling through the clothes rack like The Caddyshack gopher when the next suggestion stopped him cold in his tracks. Beth took a plain red Polo and held it up in his direction. “Ok, how about this one? Can you see it? What do you think?”
Crooning his neck he popped out of the circular rack and offered a firm “No. M’am.” She thought he was simply being picky but his emphatic reply was quickly explained as he continued.
“No red. Red is for Bloods. I don’t want nothin’ red” The third grader stated as he dismissed the crimson shirt and burrowed on. Beth swallowed hard and persevered, suggested a few more items until little man found something he liked. She bundled up the uniforms, socks, briefs and street clothes and tucked them neatly in his bag.
They thanked us, left and as I filed away their application alphabetically in our client book Beth relayed the story of the red shirt. It was arresting to think that this child was already aware of the specifics of gang violence. At just eight years of age, he already knew that the wrong color shirt could cost you your life. Eight. What must daily life look like for this child? He is not in a dangerous foreign country but rather in my city where my child goes to school with no fear of mortal repercussions for his wardrobe choice.
I realize that I cannot solve the expansive litany of this city’s much less this world’s problems with gently used jeans and even the cutest of T-shirts. So many needs abound that it can be utterly paralyzing. But we can in this small way through lemonade stands, closet clean-outs and volunteer hours be somebody’s answered prayer. In this case the answered prayer of a determined Mother striving to protect, educate and provide for her children.
“Never believe that a few caring people cannot change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” -Margaret Mead