71 residents of North Philadelphia shopped for clothes at the Church of the Advocate the morning of Feb. 26. But this “pop-up shop” is no ordinary clothing store.
Community members headed to 1801 Diamond Street — this week’s pop-up location — to find new clothes. However, this traveling store does not charge for its clothing. Rather, each shopper is given a numbered ticket based on the order in which they arrive and allowed to choose five free items.
Our Closet was founded in 2011 by Jill Aschkenasy when the house of a Philadelphia family was destroyed in a fire. She reached out to her network to ask for donations for this family. Our Closet was born when she realized that there were more people whose stories remained untold and were in need of help.
Shauna Ekezie, program manager of Our Closet, explained that so many people are focused on securing food, housing, employment and other needs and simply cannot afford new clothing. The organization provides clothing without barriers, said Ekezie, as many other organizations have certain requirements in place in order to receive service, which many families that Our Closet serves do not meet.
Some families have two parents with full-time jobs but still struggle to make ends meet. Some people have just come out of incarceration and need formal attire for job interviews, or they were incarcerated during the summer and released in the winter without proper seasonal attire. Other individuals may be retired on a fixed income, with little or nothing left over after taking care of monthly expenses. As Ekezie said, “Just being able to bridge that gap between excess [clothing] and need without any requirements definitely relieves some of the stress our shoppers may be experiencing.”
Our Closet started in Jill Aschkenasy’s garage. Today, the organization is powered by the Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia and seeks to provide clothing to those in need. The organization has expanded to 18 locations and is equipped with a driver, two additional part-time employees and a warehouse.
Shoppers are given a dignified shopping experience complete with a “check-out,” where volunteers keep track of all the clothing and items being distributed. Our Closet relies on help from volunteers and clothing donations.
Volunteer Jane Bryant, who has requested that her real name not be used, says she used to shop regularly at Our Closet while she cared for her mother, who had dementia and struggled with depression. On top of this, Bryant waited 15 years for housing from the city of Philadelphia.
But she wanted to give back to the organization that helped her get back on her feet. “Since I volunteer I’m better with myself and with God. And I love myself more now that I come down and volunteer… Our Closet has saved my life,” Bryant said.
Our Closet pop-up shops run during various times and locations throughout Philadelphia. Specific dates and volunteer opportunities can be found at www.ourcloset.org.