Suiting up: Clothing INC fights poverty with clothing donations

Children's clothing is stocked on shelfs for those in need on Sept. 24 at the Isabella County Restoration House - Day Shelter.

From flashy to practical or bright-colored to intricately laced, clothing is an integral part of identity. Despite this, not everyone is fortunate enough to own clothes suited for every occasion.

Mount Pleasant-based nonprofit Clothing INC wants to change that.

Clothing INC’s origins are humble, beginning when employees of Eydent Insurance exchanged the opportunity for a Christmas bonus for a charitable cause. 

“The Eydent employees said, ‘We don’t want a bonus, we want to help the community,’” said Jim Peasley, Clothing INC co-founder. “So instead, they picked out 12 families that needed food and clothing and provided that for them. They did that for three years and we had a bunch of clothes left over (at our church).”

After a few years of Eydent employees donating their Christmas bonuses to the cause, Kaye and Jim Peasley used the leftover clothes in their church’s basement to start something that would go on to become an independently-functioning organization.

“When I retired, I was frustrated because I had clothes to give away but didn’t want to give them to somebody who would charge for them,” Kaye Peasley said. “I just wanted people who were in need to get them.”

In 2013, Clothing INC was officially launched as a 501(c)(3), one of the 29 types of nonprofit organization licenses in the US. The organization also gained a board of directors and student volunteers from Central Michigan University who helped market the nonprofit and sort through donations.

Kaye said the connections with CMU were vital for the organization's success. Most volunteers were university students until the nonprofit became connected with court-ordered individuals and parole officers.

“Once a sixteen-year-old girl was caught skipping school, and instead of taking her home, (the police) brought her to us and said, ‘she’s here for the rest of the day, put her to work,’" Kaye said. "I got her filling online orders for elementary students and by the end of the day you could see this change of demeanor." 

After a few years of working in their church’s basement, The Peasleys decided they needed a new place for the nonprofit to expand.

“By then, conversation had happened between all the nonprofits in the area of what it would be like if we had a central location,” Kaye said. “We would be paying lease every year to United Way instead of having our own building, but it was more important to be here in this space with all of the other agencies wanting to do the same thing: make a dent in the poverty level.”

This led Clothing INC to its current location. It shares space with a care store that supplies toiletries, the Isabella County Restoration House, a food pantry and will soon be joined by a jobs academy program.

“Every organization here is a separate entity working toward the same thing,” said Bryan Chapman, director of operations. “I personally don’t care what I’m doing whether it’s with the Restoration House or Clothing INC. People need encouragement, they need to know that they can do better and they won’t do better if there’s not somebody that can convince them that they can.”

Since its founding, Clothing INC expanded quickly. In its first year, Clothing INC donated 4,800 articles of clothing. In 2018, Chapman estimates that number could reach 300,000.

“My biggest imagination (when starting) was that we could help a few people by digging into a few bags and totes and giving them what they needed,” Kaye said. “Would I have signed up for this knowing five years later that it looks like this? I probably would have said ‘no’ since I wasn’t looking for an all-consuming, full-time job right after I had retired from teaching. But it was what we were called to do, and we wanted to make that difference in someone’s life.”

Clothing INC's first goal is to provide for those in need of clothing, but its volunteers are working beyond that.

“The idea for all of the organizations is self-sufficiency,” Chapman said. “We don’t want to see people get clothes every four months. We don’t want them to have to. Instead, we want them to come, get a hand up, get the training they need and be self-sufficient enough to afford their own clothes.”

According to the US Census Bureau, 23.4 percent of people in Isabella County are below the poverty line. About 48 percent makes $30,000 or less for a family of four.

“Of that 48 percent, in April, we were serving 3 percent. Now we’re serving 9 percent,” Chapman said. "Our goal as a center is to reduce poverty, not maintain the level by providing services. It’s providing services and training to make that number go down.”

Clothing INC has made monumental progress since its opening, but the organization still has miles to go before it materializes its goals. Clothing, donations and volunteers are always needed.

"We don’t care where you’re from or what you’ve done, we just want to help,” Kaye said. “There are those hard cases where people aren’t willing to take your help and all you can do is just be there when they are, but you can’t be discouraged because the next person might need it.”

For anyone interested in volunteering, receiving clothing or more information about Clothing INC, visit the organization's website or contact them at 989-323-3332.