April 21, 2019
By: Bill Conger
The Clothes Closet brings renewed hope to the needy families of DeKalb County, but cramped quarters at its 107-C College Street location coupled with growing demand begged for more organized space.
“We absolutely had no room where we were,” says Lynn Briggs with The Clothes Closet. “We needed to expand. We’ve really needed a place that we could spread out and help more people.”
Under the sponsorship of The Salem Baptist Association, The Clothes Closest resurrected as the newly named “Hope Center” on Good Friday. Doors opened for the grand opening at 527 West Broad Street next to Walmart on Highway 70.
“Now, when families come to submit an application and tell us their needs, we’re able to go downstairs and say you can use this, this, this, or this and have better access to it,” says Smithville First Baptist Church pastor Chad Ramsey. “In the old system … we would have to go spelunking, if you will, to find a desk that we thought might be back there. With this, we’re able to have more open space and more organized space, so we can minister to more families quickly.”
“All the basement is full of furniture, dishes, sofas and fridges and that kind of thing, which go out on a regular basis,” explains Eleanor Briggs, who is better known affectionately as Miss Ellie. Retiring from nursing after 51 years, she moved with her family to DeKalb County from Massachusetts ten years ago. Not long afterwards, Miss. Ellie began what she considers as a God-led mission to help those in dire straits.
“We set up maybe three houses a month and that includes a couch, a chair, a bed, and dishes, silverware, pots and pans,” Briggs explained at Friday’s Grand Opening. “We try to give a coffee pot, a toaster, and some means of them cooking like a George Foreman grill or something of that sort. Many of these places that these places people are moving into are rather substandard and don’t have a stove. We give three dormitory fridges so at least they’ll have some little something.”
“It’s a very poor county,” says her daughter, Lynn Briggs. “I don’t think people realize that. We’re 89th [out of 95 counties in Tennessee] in the state for poverty. We were 93. You have folks that have nothing. They’re sleeping on a dirt floor. They’re sleeping in these trailers that are going to fall apart with no heat and air. They’ve got a roof over their head, and they’re happy for that. It’s pretty sad when you see this little child get so excited because you bring them a mattress to sleep on. A kid lights up because I give them a little toothbrush that costs a dollar. Their parents can’t afford it.”
“It’s not the folks that live in public housing. They’re taken care of. They have heat, and they have water and electricity. These folks [that we serve] are the ones that for whatever reason can’t go to public housing or they don’t want to go to public housing.”
“They’re trapped in a system,” adds Pastor Ramsey. “Maybe they’re trapped by their own doing. Maybe they’re trapped by something that’s not something of their own doing. There are a lot of those people who want to get out of that.”
“None of us want to live that way,” Ramsey says. “We want to have financial peace. We want to be able to survive. But for whatever reason they’ve got to that point, but it’s our job as Christians to help everybody; no questions asked. We want to assist people. We don’t want to enable them. We want to help them become better for themselves, help to get them on their feet and get them working for Jesus, whatever that looks like.”
Last May Smithville First Baptist Church stepped in to pay the rent at the store’s previous location, but a few months ago the churches under the Salem Baptist Association joined in a cooperative spirit. They want to provide spiritual along with physical aid.
“The difference with this Hope Center versus The Clothes Closet like we used to have is that every person who comes in there is going to be able to have counseling about what they need, where they’re at, and what they’re honest to goodness needs are, and at the same time they’re going to be able to hear about the gospel of Jesus Christ and be prayed for. If they don’t have a church home, for the churches that are sponsoring and willing to help, we will have churches contact them and have follow up. We want to develop a relationship with these people.”
The Hope Center provides service to the Department of Children’s Services, Recovery Court, emerging adults aging out of the foster care system, and the halfway houses in Smithville along with many other individuals. In addition to clothes, donations are always welcome for furniture, household appliances, and personal care items.
The Hope Center will be open every Friday for shopping and every Thursday for donations from 9 a.m. until 12:00. A donation box at the back of the store will be available when the store is closed. To find out about specific needs and other information, you can follow them on Facebook at The Clothes Closet.