Posted on January 6, 2016 at 6:00 am
It’s that time of year again. When resolutions are fresh and resolve is still intact. As usual, one of my resolutions is to declutter my house. After visiting Kira’s Kloset, I think I’m going to begin by decluttering my kids’ closets. I got the privilege of visiting Kira’s Kloset when the library joined Community-Minded Enterprises in setting up a small play area for younger kids to enjoy while their parents shopped for clothing. And when I say shopped, I mean it. This was not your ordinary clothing bank.
Kira’s Kloset was extremely well-organized with clothing racks divided by size and type of clothing. Everything was in good condition and clean. The people volunteering were helpful and welcoming. If it wasn’t for the basketball hoops reminding you that you were in a gym, you might completely forget you weren’t in a regular clothing store. As I watched shoppers and the many volunteers dressed in pink, I found myself curious about how this non-profit began and about how they are able to do what they do. Debbie Wraspir, founder of Kira’s Kloset, graciously agreed to tell me the story of Kira’s Kloset.
Debbie, thanks so much for being willing to share with us about Kira’s Kloset. I heard that Kira’s Kloset is named after your daughter. Can you tell me a little bit about Kira?
Kira was a happy, healthy, active 12-year-old girl. She did dance, played volleyball, was in band, and was a Girl Scout. She loved camping with family and friends, bike rides and hanging with her dog Scout, and she collected lip gloss, bouncy balls, and Webkinz animals. Kira really cared about people. She grew her hair out twice to donate to Locks of Love and enjoyed volunteering at the Mead Food Bank. There was an undeniable sparkle of fun and mischief in her eyes.
In March 2010, she woke up to a raging headache and nausea. I took her immediately to the ER where she was diagnosed with a hemorrhaging brain tumor. It was a slow-growing, undetectable tumor in the very center of her brain. The surgeon described it as a very bad tumor in a very bad part of her brain. In surgery, the surgeon tried to remove the tumor, getting only part of it. She was gone five days after her diagnosis. It was all so sudden and shocking; it was hard to believe then and it’s still incomprehensible today.
What a devastating loss. And yet, in your grief, you chose to start a non-profit and dedicate your time to helping others. When and how did Kira’s Kloset get its start?
After we lost Kira, the girls in Kira’s Girl Scout troop came up with the idea to start a prom dress bank to honor Kira, which reflected Kira’s desire to care for others and her appreciation of clothes. I loved the idea, but I thought, prom is just one day out of the year—what if we created a clothing bank for everyday? Realizing that kids outgrow books like they outgrow clothes, as well as the importance of early literacy, we decided to also add a book bank. We started collecting donations in the fall of 2010 and opened our doors for business January 2011.
What were your biggest challenges in getting Kira’s Kloset up and running?
I was very fortunate to have the wholehearted support of an army of friends and family. A friend organized a community garage sale to raise seed money to get us started. Our church, St. Luke Lutheran, graciously opened their doors to give us space to organize and store the clothing.
I visited this September and was amazed at how organized and inviting everything was. How much time does it take you to set up each month? How many people and hours does it take to keep Kira’s Kloset going?
There are over 100 volunteers who keep Kira’s Kloset going. Some of the tasks are sorting washing, mending, tagging, and hanging clothing. Also, sorting books, updating data, setting up, and volunteering during Kira’s Kloset’s open hours. I wash clothing, shop for socks and underwear and then label and bag them, organize and stock sorted clothing, and coordinate volunteers. In terms of hours, we set up Kira’s Kloset in about an hour, but there are many, many hours that go into preparation. I would estimate we spend 8–12 hours a month sorting. I spend an average of 10–15 hours a week on my tasks.
On average, how many kids do you serve each month? Approximately how many items are handed out?
We serve about 200 kids a month. Our biggest months are August for back-to-school (this year we served 450 kids for clothing, backpacks, and school supplies!) and November for winter coats, boots, gloves, hats, etc. The number of items available to our “klients” varies month-to-month based upon our inventory. We manage the number of items by using a punch card system. You can count on pants, shirts, underwear, socks, pajamas, jackets, shoes, and books every month with seasonal extras like swim items, Christmas, winter wear, slippers, etc. Taking that into consideration, a klient can get 18+ items each month.
We require adult and kid ID (such as a health card, immunization record, school report card, etc.) or the child can physically be present with their guardian. We serve kids 0–18 years. There is no financial requirement. When people come to Kira’s Kloset we sign them in and give them a punch card for each child they are shopping for. We are also available to families in trauma, such as fire or custody issues. These situations are unique and we handle them on a case-by-case basis.
What makes Kira’s Kloset different from other clothing banks?
I think what makes Kira’s Kloset unique is that we’re set up like a store where our klients can actually shop for what they want and need. The clothing and books we provide are clean and in gently-used condition.
How do you get your donations? If readers have items they would like to donate, what are the guidelines for what you accept and where would they take them? What if somebody is interested in volunteering?
Our donations primarily come from our very generous community. We have donation barrels at St. Luke Lutheran Church, and all the Mead elementary schools. Additionally, every year Kira’s volleyball club sponsors a tournament honoring Kira and challenging participating teams to bring donations for Kira’s Kloset. We ask for gently-used clothing (including shoes, PJs, swimsuits, dresses, coats, hats, etc.) and books for kids ages 0–18 years.
What should someone do if they’re interested in volunteering?
Volunteers can contact me directly at email@example.com.
Is there anything else about Kira’s Kloset that you want people to know?
What I like best about Kira’s Kloset is that it empowers kids and adults to make a real difference in our community. It really warms my heart when I see our klients, who are in need themselves, bringing clothes to donate to other families in need.
Kira’s Kloset is located in the old Mead Middle School gym at 12509 N Market St, Mead, WA. It is open the third Saturday of the month from 10am–1pm, closed July and December. For more information, check out Kira’s Kloset’s Facebook page.