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Clothing a community
In back from left, Sue Burkhalter, Sandy Cecil, Joe Wheelock, Paul Watkins and Peg Watkins, and in front, Donna Garwell, Anna Rhoe, John Rhoe and Lynne Rhoe are all regular volunteers at the Monroe Area Clothing Closet located at Monroe Church of the Nazarene. The clothing closet has had just over 1,000 visitors and given out more than 10,000 articles of clothing since it opened at the end of March 2017. (Times photo: Marissa Weiher)

How to Donate

What: Drop off clothing during hours of operation

■ When: 3-7 p.m. Mondays

■ Where: W5951 Patina Lane, Monroe

■ More info: Contact Rick Gleason at 608-558-0925 or

MONROE - A local nonprofit effort to provide free clothing to residents has seen a successful first year.

The Monroe Area Clothing Closet operates out of Monroe Church of the Nazarene, W5951 Patina Lane. Pastor Paul Watkins said the patronage has only been growing since its opening at the end of March 2017.

"The more people are learning we're here, the more people come in," Watkins said. "It's been going very well. The community has been incredible about it."

A back door serves as its entrance to the lower level, where three walls are lined with hanging shirts and pants. Tables separate racks of clothes that range in size from young children to adults, holding bins of smaller clothing items and toiletries.

So far, the closet has seen 1,005 visitors. Watkins said just more than 10,000 articles of clothing have been given out. The community resource serves a range of age groups, but Watkins said people with children are the highest users. The clothing donations most needed are children's items and men's clothing.

"The first week we were open, this lady came in with five kids," Watkins said. "They were anywhere from 2 to 7 or so. We're dealing with single moms, young families."

There have been over 400 volunteers working to sort clothing and help visitors since the clothing closet's opening last year, he said - from other church groups to a squad of nurses from Freeport to men who utilize the resource center on 30th Street.

"I call them the people that give back," Watkins said of the patrons who receive clothing from the closet and choose to volunteer as a way to ensure it succeeds. "If it wasn't for the people who volunteer, we wouldn't be able to keep up with it."

Monroe resident Sue Burkhalter spends her time sorting clothing at the community closet when she isn't volunteering elsewhere within the city and gets to interact with closet visitors when the building opens each Monday from 3 to 7 p.m. Burkhalter has been helping with the closet since it opened, initially filling in for her sister-in-law, who had a heart attack.

"I think it's very nice for people who can't afford clothing; children, adults," Burkhalter said. "I enjoy it. It gets me out of the house. I don't mind coming out at all."

The space is available to anyone looking for clothing, regardless of income.

Watkins said support has been beneficial to its operation. Initially, $1,600 in donations from the Monroe Fund, area businesses and individuals helped organizers put structures in place to hang clothing. All hangers were donated and the round clothing racks were also supplied through donation.

Not only does the closet provide a free offering for those who have trouble maintaining clothing purchases, it serves as a fundraiser for the Parkside Elementary Parent-Teacher Organization. Through the supply of overflow clothing that the group cannot store in its limited space, the PTO can gain 10 cents per pound of clothing used to help fund free breakfast for students, buy books for classrooms and even use the rubber from unwanted shoes to create playground equipment.

Now organizers hope to make it easier to use the entrance by creating roughly eight handicapped-accessible parking spaces. Watkins said Alliant Energy installed a better lighting pole for the space, but a quote of $8,000 has prevented the creation of improved parking. He said the group "can do it in pieces," but beyond gravel, the expense is high. The closet has been seeking donations to start planning that work, Watkins noted, but cannot start work until it has the funding.