Small Stafford congregation clothes hundreds in one day
Date published: 5/8/2011
BY AMY FLOWERS UMBLE
The racks are filled with just about any type of clothing you can imagine: pastel onesies, pajamas, polo shirts and jeans–lots and lots of jeans. A crowd picks through the jam-packed room, looking for a new outfit, a pair of shoes or one of the toys lining the top shelf. But Aaron DeLoach gravitates to a plaid bucket hat. The preschooler plucks it off a shelf, sticks it on his head and grins. “Do we have to pay for it?” he asks. Somewhere nearby, an adult shakes her head. “You mean it’s free?” Aaron asks, his voice incredulous.
His isn’t the only surprised voice in the throng. Yesterday morning, people lined up outside the small building near Stafford Courthouse. As soon as the line thinned out, more families showed up. And somehow, The Hope Center’s two crammed rooms overflowing with clothes held enough for hundreds of people. It was almost a modern-day version of the fish and the loaves. In the Bible, Jesus miraculously feeds a crowd of 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish. In Stafford, a small church with 25 members clothed several hundred struggling county residents.
The center is an outreach of Hope Chapel, a Foursquare Gospel congregation meeting in the Stafford County Courthouse Community Center. The Hope Center opened last summer (2010), providing gently worn clothes and food for needy residents. The center does a brisk business, attracting both people looking to purge their closets and those needing clothes.
But a few months ago, the Rev. Michael Hancock learned that more than 300 Stafford County students are homeless. He immediately wondered how his congregation could help. He called Kathy Olson, director of social work for Stafford public schools, and offered to open the center for a day, to give away summer clothes to those students and their families. It was exactly the form of partnership Olson likes to make. Her families not only snag some summer clothes, but also learn about The Hope Center’s offerings. The clothing project soon expanded to include the county’s Head Start students and their families. With 360 homeless students and almost as many Head Start students, that offer went out to more than 1,000 people.It was a daunting task, but Hancock believed his congregation could put on a dressing day. They wouldn’t be the first congregation to clothe the needy.
Spotswood Baptist and Mount Ararat Baptist, two of the area’s largest congregations, have similar events. And the area’s Interfaith Council holds regional dressing days every August. But Hope Chapel would be the smallest congregation to take on such an effort. Hundreds showed up yesterday, taking turns “shopping” through the racks of clothing. Families watched “Veggie Tales” in a waiting room until it was their turn. But over the bustling energy of the center, they could barely hear Bob the Tomato sing about hula dancing in the animated movie.
Inside, parents and children looked through clothes, accessories and shoes. Carolyn Boykin came with her daughter and grandson. They had recently lost their home and moved to a nearby motel. Boykin’s eyes watered as she said, “It’s hard, it’s really hard.” She was looking for a fresh start, hoping to find both a church and clothes to wear to services.
Yesterday she found both, snagging a dress and an invitation to Hope Chapel’s Sunday worship.
And after a melancholy moment thinking about life in a motel, Boykin looked around the room and smiled, hugging the volunteers. “God is good,” she said. “All the time,” replied PJ Hancock, the pastor’s wife. “And right on time,” Boykin agreed.