Benefield: ‘Laundry angels’ needed to support Our Village Closet, nonprofit program for foster families

“Angels” take clothes home, make sure they meet Our Village Closet’s exacting standards, and then wash the items before returning them.|

How you can help

To find out more about the work of Our Village Closet or to sign up for various volunteer opportunities, go to www.ourvillagecloset.org or email jennifer@ourvillagecloset.org or call 707-238-2806

Who knew doing a load of laundry could mean so much?

But it does.

“We really want it to be about dignity,” said Amanda Kitchens.

Kitchens is co-founder of Our Village Closet, a nonprofit that supplies clothes, diapers, baby gear, teen clothing, books, shoes and more to kids and families using the foster care system in Sonoma County.

Foster parents, officially known as resource parents, can access all of the supplies and support Our Village Closet offers free of charge at their 3,000-square-foot space at 905 Mendocino Ave. in Santa Rosa.

It’s an operation born of necessity and experience. Kitchens knows foster parents who have received middle-of-the-night calls asking to take in a child.

She’s been one of them.

Those calls, more often than not, can spur frenetic — and expensive — shopping sprees to get supplies and ready a home for a child in need.

The folks at Our Village Closet want to take one more hurdle away from people interested in fostering, so they started the free support program.

But Kitchens is clear — just because it’s free, doesn’t mean the things hanging in the shop or bundled on the shelves are of lesser quality.

There are new things there, things with the tags still on them. There are gently used items. What you won’t find are things with holes, stains or simply worn out.

That is why volunteers sort, examine and clean everything that is donated to their Mendocino Avenue operation.

“All of these kids, all of these youth, deserve to start out fresh with clean clothes,” she said.

In honor of Foster Care Awareness Month in May, Our Village Closet has sent a call out asking for extra hands. Our Village Closet served 235 young people this month alone, Kitchens said.

And that ongoing need is where the laundry angels come in.

The angels are a small group of volunteers who pick up large plastic totes filled with donated items. They take the totes home, examine the contents to make sure they meet Our Village Closet’s exacting standards and then wash the items before returning them.

Some volunteers are even known to sort and fold items according to size, reducing the amount of work back at the shop.

Community generosity — Our Village Closet gets a ton of stuff dropped off during its multiple weekly donation windows — has brought with it a need: A small number of folks willing to wash the items and return them to the shop.

“We have a backlog of 15 bins waiting to go out,” Kitchens said.

And she won’t put them on the floor until they have been washed and sorted and checked.

Enter Jerilyn Mueller, of Santa Rosa, a longtime laundry angel.

She just happens to be Kitchens’ mom, so in that sense, she’s been doing laundry for her daughter for some time now.

“I do some loads most weeks,” Mueller said.

Linda McBride, of Windsor, is another regular laundry angel.

“I try to do two bins a week,” she said.

McBride said grabbing a load of laundry each week is an easy, and meaningful, way to contribute.

“The reason we do laundry? So that it smells good in there,” she said.

When a teen pulls a sweatshirt from a hanger to try it on, it smells good. When a toddler grabs a squishy toy to snuggle, it smells good. When an adolescent picks up a pair of jeans, they smell good.

“It gives them dignity and respect that they desperately need in this situation,” McBride said.

“We have people who are there due to no (fault of their own),” she said. “(Our Village Closet) want this resource center to be a pleasant place to go and they want the materials that people pick up to be of good quality.”

And for Kitchens, the laundry angels provide another set of eyes to be quality control on donations.

“When I had my own children, I wouldn’t have put stained or torn clothes on them, so why would I want somebody with foster children to have to do that?” Mueller said.

Clean, stylish and quality clothes can infuse a sense of self-worth for a kid in a tough situation.

“I think that they need to have a sense of ‘I mean something, I’m worth having clothes that are clean and that look good.’ Because they already feel bad, especially if they are already a little bit older,” Mueller said. “There is so much that they have already gone through.”

McBride said while the work is exceedingly important, the folks at Our Village Closet make volunteering easy.

Need a week to turn around a few loads? That is OK. Can’t do it every week and once a month is more realistic? That’s OK, just sign onto the schedule.

“They want to get it back, but they know that people have lives,” McBride said. “There is no pressure.”

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

How you can help

To find out more about the work of Our Village Closet or to sign up for various volunteer opportunities, go to www.ourvillagecloset.org or email jennifer@ourvillagecloset.org or call 707-238-2806

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