Clothing Center on shaky ground

By Mike Sever Record-Courier staff writer Published:

But while the number of people using the program strengthens, its finances are shaky. The Portage County Solid Waste Management District contributed $23,000 this year for building rent because the program keeps clothing out of the solid waste stream. But budget problems at the county solid waste district may force it to withdraw some or all of its support.

"We cannot start a service and then stop it _ it's immoral," said Sister Jordan Haddad, who is the only full-time staff for the center. "If they stop us, we'll have to go scratching for dollars."

The center, at 3011 S.R. 59, is a program of Family and Community Services of Catholic Charities and a community project of several churches in Portage County. It seeks to redistribute usable clothing from those who don't need it to those who do.

Located first on Dodge Street in Kent, the center had to relocate last November only a month after opening because the building was put up for sale.

"We're taking in one and a quarter tons (of clothes) a month," said Sister Jordan Haddad. "We'll probably do in excess of 150 tons this year."

Inside the center, racks of clothes are arranged like any well-stocked clothing store. Sister Jordan even has one area with formal and special occasion outfits for women and girls. Nearly all of the work at the center is done with the help of volunteers, many of them senior citizens.

County commissioners, who also sit as commissioners of the solid waste management district, have not set any deadlines for their budget decision. They have indicated their interest and support of the program. But their decision will depend in part on how the second half of revenues go for the sale of recyclable materials through the waste management district.

"Regardless of what happens in the future with funding from the county commissioners," said Frisone, "their support for the county clothing center was absolutely critical from the inception. We are all very grateful for the help they've provided for establishing this service."

If the county cuts funding, Frisone said the center, its board of directors and other supporters will deal with that issue when the time comes.

"I think the partnership between private and public is a model for the nation," said Sister Jordan. "I would hate to see the partnership dissolve."

In the meantime, the center serves about 1,200 families a month, "mostly senior citizens and mothers with children," said Sister Jordan. She estimates 75 to 80 percent of clients are from Kent and Ravenna, the rest from around Portage and some from as far as Akron.

Social service agencies refer many people to the center, she said. People come in looking for clothing suitable for job interviews.

Most needed items are clothes for children in elementary grades, maternity clothes, and extra large sizes for men and women.

"We can always use sheets and towels, pillow cases and blankets," Sister Jordan said.

"Most people who come in are shopping for their families, not just themselves," said Frisone.

Frisone recalled he wasn't aware of the magnitude of the issue when Charles Ramer, coordinator of the waste district and he first talked about the project.

"Charlie asked 'Do you think you guys could do 75 to 100 tons a year?' I didn't even know what that meant," Frisone said. "He said it would be like filling up my office with clothes" several times over.

"This has grown in less than a year to the most prolific social service site in Portage County. Clearly it underscores that while there's essentially full employment in the county, there are a lot of folks who are underemployed. There are a lot of jobs paying $5 or $6 an hour and people are just barely making it."

So far the center does not charge for items. It asks only for donations from those who can afford it, and is getting $80 to $100 per month.

"Obviously if the situation changes, and the county is no longer able to support the program, we may have to reevaluate our procedures," Frisone said.

"We stand committed to that service and we are not about to let it

disappear," Frisone said. "We're not going to run up the white flag even

if the county cuts us off."

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