The chatter of guests and rustling of clothes can be heard during Clothes to Go every Saturday at the Stone Church in Vineyard Haven. Donors drop off clothes, and volunteers sift through the donations for clothing of acceptable quality. At the center of all of this activity is Jen Fiore, a counselor at Oak Bluffs School, who leads the volunteers and greets the guests.
Clothes to Go operates under the United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard, and Fiore started it in 2009 with the help of the pastor at the time. She was working as a social worker and came up with the Clothes to Go idea after interacting with many families and schools, which exposed her to the needs of the Island community.
“It really started with an idea of, ‘How could I serve my community?’” Fiore said. She felt this was a simple service the church could provide to Islanders who needed it. “I got a lot of support from the church and the pastor at the time … it has grown into something much more, and it feels like a community.”
Fiore said news about Clothes to Go spread by word of mouth, and there was always a small crew of volunteers. As more people heard about the charity, more people stepped forward to support it. Fiore said Clothes to Go collaborated with the Rotary Club of Martha’s Vineyard and different school organizations; students from Vineyard Montessori School and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Interact Club came in to help. They also received many donations, such as clothing racks from Island businesses and clothes hangers from individuals.
Fiore also said many of the people who volunteered were also people who visited the charity looking for clothes. “There are these wonderful blurred lines of who’s here shopping and who’s here volunteering and who’s here donating,” Fiore said.
The impact from the COVID pandemic halted Clothes to Go operations for a time, but Fiore said there were some unexpected positives as well. The virus forced people to stay at home more, which led to people cleaning out their closets and donating clothes. Additionally, the temporary closure allowed a small group of volunteers to clean up and plan the reopening in a safe manner.
One big shift that occurred was digitalization. Originally, before COVID hit, Clothes to Go was open several times a week. Now an online reservation system allows people to come in for an appointment to get clothes from Fiore.
With restrictions loosened, people were allowed back in again. Fiore said there was cautiousness among the guests at first, but now the community interaction seems to be back.
“For me, being here is connecting with people, and it does something for me. Especially with the pandemic and feeling really disconnected and isolated, being here helps me to stay positive, helps me be hopeful, and it’s great to be here and talk to people, share stories, and check in [on them],” Fiore said. “I think it helps me, and I think it’s helpful for community members to be able to come in here and have that as well.”
Clothes to Go is open at the Stone Church in Vineyard Haven on Saturdays from 11 am to 1 pm. For those who cannot make these times but would still like to come in during the week, visit the Clothes to Go reservation site to make an appointment. For information about donations, volunteering, or anything else about the charity, Fiore can be contacted by phone at 508-693-4424 or by e-mail at email@example.com.