From The Ugly Room to the Beautiful Girl: the journey of a Hello Kitty jacket.
THIRTY PEOPLE AGED 3 MONTHS TO 80 from WEFC gathered at the Hurricane Relief Center in Hartford on Saturday, February 10th at 9 AM. Boxes and garbage bags piled high in the middle of the room overwhelmed the group. This room is affectionately called “The Ugly Room.” The coordinator, Aura, thanked us for coming, gave a brief introduction, and explained our tasks for the next two hours.
The Ugly Room:
First things first: put winter coats on hangers and bring them upstairs to the “boutique” right away because they are the first to go. Boxes lined the perimeter of the room separating pants, shirts, sweaters, and PJ’s, for men, women, boys, and girls. Pack summer clothes into redistribution boxes for another charity. Discard stained or ruined clothing. Look at, sort, and fold all clothing and place in appropriate boxes. Once a box was full, the “runners” loaded the heavy box onto a cart or dolly and wheeled it through the elevator upstairs to the boutique. A few members of our group then took the folded clothing out of the boxes and placed it neatly in the boutique room for clients.
The Jacket and the Beautiful Girl:
Within the first ten minutes of the sorting process Deb Marquardt found a pink Hello Kitty winter jacket that made her smile. “Look, it’s Miss Kitty! This is going to make some girl very happy!” she exclaimed to us all, showing off the coat before putting it on a hanger. Runners brought it, along with other coats up to the boutique An hour later, Chris Dyer was putting clothing away in the boutique and saw a bright-eyed young girl smiling and chatting away to her in Spanish, modeling her new clothes. Chris didn’t understand what she was saying, but nodded and smiled, happy for the girl. She noticed how cute she looked in her new winter jacket, the same pink Hello Kitty jacket. Now she would be warm this winter, thanks to another girl who donated a special jacket, and a few volunteers from our church who helped it get to its rightful new beautiful and excited owner.
From the Ugly Room to the Tidy Room:
All morning long the sorters and organizers, runners, folders, and helpers worked like a “well-oiled machine.” With joyful hearts everyone worked well together, sharing “ooohs” and “ahhhs” at cute baby clothes and brand-new top of the line coats. We laughed at two miscellaneous Batman and sumo wrestler costumes that got mixed in. It opened our eyes to see what people will donate and reminded us to think twice before donating sub-par quality clothing. It opened our hearts as we thought of and prayed for the grateful families in the boutique right above us who were coming in to find much-needed clothing. Thankfully, we almost completely sorted the entire room, leaving only a scant amount of boxes and bags at the end. Aura, the coordinator, was thrilled by the efficiency and the huge help to tidy and sort “The Ugly Room.” She’s happy. We’re happy,” Jim Marquardt, the organizer of the WEFC group remarked at the end of the morning.
What the Hurricane Relief Center Has Done Through Volunteers:
Aura knows how important volunteers are, since everything has been done at the Relief Center with volunteers. “I have family in Puerto Rico who were affected. We all have family there,” she explains. The Relief Center began as a brainstorming session with a small group of colleagues. On November 1st, they pitched their idea of the Relief Center in a large room of 70 agencies that gathered with the intent of helping. In the end, only 5 committed to coming alongside those displaced from Puerto Rico. She states that CREC has raised over $150,000, while the City of Hartford and the State of Connecticut have not given any financial help. Volunteers meet people at the airport and hand out flyers with the Relief Center’s information. The 211 information line directs people to the Relief Center. One extremely helpful service is that over 30 volunteers have gone with people to the DMV to secure photo IDs or driver’s licenses.
Unfortunately, the current location of the Relief Center will have to shut down because the building is no longer available for free (rent costs $30,000). Aura has seen the real change that has occurred in the past three and a half months thanks to people banding together and serving with purpose. While she is saddened and even frustrated that it must come to an end while so many are still in need, she must focus on the hundreds of displaced families that she and volunteers have helped.
What WEFC People Had to Say:
Nathaniel and Michelle Pearson, parents of our youngest volunteers, 3 month-old Ezra and 3 year-old Abigail, said, “It was good to be able to involve our children and teach them about serving others. We enjoyed being a small part of the effort to help those who were displaced by the storm.”
Ryan Barnum, one of our essential runners says, “It was fun being able to find warm coats for people who lost everything and now are cold here.”
Ed Johnson comments, “Volunteering our time in the Relief Center was a great example of WEFC teamwork in the service of others.”
It was wonderful to work together with fellow brothers and sisters from WEFC. Serving together outside the church walls is a completely different feel from worshiping together in the sanctuary. It’s really special. Everyone should try it. We are grateful that WEFC has sought out tangible ways to love and serve our neighbors from Puerto Rico, with the Relief Center sorting just being one way. We have also provided boxes of toiletries, and $3000 has been contributed toward the purchase of bus passes. We have also opened the Missions House to a family, and members of our community groups have cooked and served hot meals at the church. If you would like to continue to help with other ways of serving, please contact the office.
Here are more photos from the day. (Photo credit: Ed Johnson)