There is a hidden world beneath Evergreen’s Calvary Lutheran Church. A trail of small green arrows guides visitors into the basement, around the corner and down a hall where a series of rooms stocked with clothes, shoes and winter-wear awaits. The Clothes Closet is open from 4-6 p.m. on Thursdays for anyone in need. The church processes the donated garments and “shoppers” can peruse the shelves, taking what they need at no charge. There is no limit, no sign-in sheet and no judgment.
And at the center of it all is Kristy Johnson. She is a member of the church and also manages the church office. For years, she’s helped out in the closet here and there, but now she’s an integral force in keeping its doors open.
“The closet part of it, it’s volunteer [work] … and that’s the fun part,” she said with a smile.
The Creston resident will sort clothes, determine which items are a good fit for the Closet, and pass on the surplus to local thrift stores. She, along with Pastor Craig Nissen and a handful of volunteers, keep the operation up and running. While Johnson isn’t certain about the precise origin story of the closet, she estimates that the ministry has been providing clothing to the Evergreen community for the last 15 years. They now also offer pet food and personal hygiene items.
“[Donors] like to be able to get rid of [clothes] and to know that it’s going to a place where it’s given to people in need — that touches their heart, too,” Johnson said.
Eighteen months ago when the prior closet caretaker had to bow out due to health reasons, Johnson stepped up to the plate, not wanting to see the community resource disappear.
“There’s days where you think, ‘OK, maybe it’s run its course,’ and then we’ll get this humongous donation of clothes. This is God telling us you need to keep going,” Johnson said.
Some Thursdays, only a handful of people visit the closet, but other times it’s hopping with activity. Many patrons also choose to stay for the evening meal offered at 6 p.m., provided by area churches on a rotating basis.
“A lot of people that come here, this is their outing. They may not get to go shopping at the mall,” she explained.
Closet customers come from a variety of backgrounds — some are homeless or victims of house fires or other tragedies, while other patrons simply need a hand up in a trying time.
“There’s a gal that’s consistently been coming in to help — and she’s also been a customer,” Johnson added. “Something I always feel extra happy about is people coming in looking for clothes for job interviews. It’s so cool when they come back and say, ‘I got that job.’”
The clothing donors have stories, too. She remembers an older man who dropped off bags of his wife’s clothes after her passing, and took care to point out details about the items.
It broke her heart, Johnson recalled, but later she found joy as those same garments walked out the door with new owners, onto their next lives.
For Johnson, Calvary Lutheran has been a mainstay. It was the church she grew up in, leaving for a time to go to college and then to work in Washington, before returning home in the late 1990s. While she was away, Johnson wasn’t involved in a church, but things changed after she started a family. And when her first marriage ended, it was faith that helped her weather that storm, too.
“Once I shook the dust off, I realized how much God had carried me through,” she recalled.
Now she is a direct witness to what she describes as “God at work.”
“I enjoy seeing God at work, really — people coming through the door needing help and watching the people who are members here and the things going on in their lives,” she said. “It’s a great ministry and to me it’s rewarding to be able to help in a really simple way and be able to be a friend to somebody who needs a coat or a dress or clothes for an interview.”