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The Valley's first clothing bank, The Gift of Apparel, opened last month in Snoqualmie to serve the community.
Members of the Snoqualmie Valley Alliance Church in Fall City formed community study groups last spring with the purpose of finding ways to give back to the Valley.
One group hit upon the idea of holding a clothing drive, and Bob Van Liew of North Bend thought they should take it a step further and open a clothing bank.
Bob's wife Jan took charge of the operation and began looking for a location and soliciting clothing, fixtures, racks and hangers for the store. Her summer was spent contacting local agencies, sorting clothes, putting together fixtures, painting the new store and organizing the operation.
The store operates on a voucher system as opposed to cash, and works on a referral basis only, meaning that residents cannot just walk in off the street and make selections.
"Right now we are serving families from Encompass, House of Hope, Echo Glen, the Snoqualmie Valley School District and the Snoqualmie Valley food bank,' Van Liew said.
These agencies pass out "Gift of Apparel" vouchers to families in need, which allow them to shop in the store. Customers are allowed to pick out 12 clothing items per family member per visit. There is absolutely no charge.
The small shop is tastefully decorated with music playing in the background, creating an atmosphere that was important to Van Liew. Items are new or gently used, and the store carries shoes and clothing for infants, children and adults. Two fitting rooms are available in the back of the store.
"I wanted to set the store up as a boutique ... I wanted people to be able to shop with some dignity and feel that they were being blessed," Van Liew said. Items are wrapped in tissue paper before being bagged.
Currently, the store is open limited hours, as listed on the vouchers.
Van Liew credits Kyle Sinner, a North Bend woman who has been distributing clothing to needy families for the last few years, as being instrumental in helping her get started. Van Liew also has a loyal core group of volunteers who have been helping her organize and run the store.
While the store is not set up at this time to receive donations, Van Liew said they welcome any volunteer help or monetary donations to help offset costs for the operation. Currently, Van Liew is in the process of trying to obtain funding for a storefront sign.
"We have a zero budget and we started with absolutely nothing. I can see this going on for years, there is a real need. There are more people than you know eating from the food bank, more than most people are aware of."
On the first day the store was open, a young single mother came in to shop and wanted to know how much it would cost. "I told her it was free," Van Liew said, "and she just could not wrap her mind around that. Her mouth dropped open and she couldn't believe it. She was so grateful and appreciative. It just touched my heart."
For more information, to volunteer, or if you know of a family in need who could benefit from The Gift of Apparel, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gift of Apparel is located at 8032 Falls Avenue S.E. in Snoqualmie near the House of Soul coffee shop.