Human Resources, Nonprofits, and Real Estate

Church builds $600K emergency clothing center

July 27, 2015
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Church opens emergency clothing center
The Family Assistance emergency clothing center in southeast Grand Rapids provides clothing for more than 3,000 children and adults. Courtesy Calvin Christian Reformed Church

A local church is taking Jesus’ words about clothing the poor and needy to heart.

Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids recently opened a new facility for its Family Assistance program, which seeks to provide “clothing for over (three) thousand needy children and adults each year, working with various local service organizations,” according to its website.

The newly constructed 5,500-square-foot facility in Grand Rapids, located at 1515 Franklin St. SE, is owned by the church and sits on property adjacent to the church, said Ron Rozema, a spokesperson for the program.

The architect on the $600,000 project was Dan Bode of The Architectural Group in Grandville, the contractor was GDK Construction and the Fifth Third Bank financed the project. Some of the labor was also supplied by members of the church.

“It’s a very nice-looking warehouse," Rozema said. "There is space to sort, clean, repair, size and store clothing that arrives in good condition. A cart system is used to fill orders. Volunteers move carts through the aisles formed by racks and shelving to gather gender- and size-appropriate items, then package the completed requests and place them in cubicles. Caseworkers arrive to pick up the filled orders and deliver them to people in need.

“(There will be) one part-time director who gets a modest stipend. Depending on season, need and availability, a crew of thirty to forty volunteers supplies the hands-on labor to make it all work. Area caseworkers and agencies rely on the program as they have learned that a single call or email message will set the process in motion, and they can quickly meet the needs of people in need on their caseloads.”

The Family Assistance program is operated as a program of the church, not a separate entity, Rozema said.

The program started in the basements of a few volunteers 45 years ago and for the last 40 years was housed in a two-story home immediately north of the church on Ethel Street SE. The program was run out of a small attic accessible only by a narrow stairway.

“It’s amazing none of our volunteers were hurt filling clothing requests,” said Bobbie Talsma, director of the program. “They would fill a bag with coats and kick it down the stairs, because it was too dangerous to carry the bags. Every room in the house was literally stuffed with clothing sorted by size and gender in order to have adequate supplies for caseworkers helping families through dire circumstances.”

The program formed a partnership with Grand Rapids Jaycees earlier this year and will be supplying winter coats to Grand Rapids Public Schools students.

“We serve people of all faiths and of no faith,” Talsma said. “There’s always a seasonal demand for warm winter coats, so we’re thrilled that the Jaycees have stepped up to help meet that need. The last couple of winters have been too brutal for kids to get through without a warm coat. Now we have space for the coats that the Jaycees gathered and moved.”

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