In Dubuque, Open Closet serving record numbers

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) -- In the basement of St. John's Lutheran Church, people of all different backgrounds come together for one basic human need: clothes.

People waiting in line to enter the Open Closet inside St. John's Lutheran Church on Saturday, December 2, 2017.

On the first and third Saturdays of each month, the Open Closet opens its doors from 9 to 11 a.m. to serve anyone who's in need of clothes.

"I come shop for my family. Me and my son, and my grand baby," Open Closet shopper Lesheron Turner said.

She said she learned about the closet by just walking past it one Saturday. She's been coming ever since.

She said, "it really comes in handy because I'm a single parent and living on a low-budget income, so everything helps."

The closet is even there for high schooler Hannah Ries, who's looking for something pretty special.

"I'm just shopping for stuff for my first Prom," she said.

Volunteers say it may seem small, but free clothes can make a big difference in these people's lives.

"If they can get clothes here, then their spendable income can go for some other things," volunteer Mary Kay Patters said.

Open Closet Director Gwen Kirchhof since May, their numbers have been increasing steadily, but November set new records.

On the first Saturday of November, they served over 700. The third Saturday of that same month, over 900 came through the doors.

On the first Saturday of December, they had over 500 people come through, but they gave out clothes for about 970.

They've had to make a new rule to keep up with demand.

"They are limited to one bag full, plus a blanket and a jacket," Patters explained.

Kirchhof believes there are many reasons why they are busier than usual. She says they're seeing a lot of large, first-time families who are having a hard time making ends meet.

They're also seeing more homeless men, and men looking for cold weather, work clothes.

Kirchhof says they serve the working poor.

The Open Closet isn't the only place in Dubuque people can go to for free clothes.

There's the Community Closet run by Women United, which is supported by United Way of Dubuque. That closet is located on the lower level of the NICC Town Clock Center.

The Community Closet takes men's and women's professional clothes. They hope to outfit people who have job interviews or who are starting new jobs.

"If we can not spend money on that and focus on paying towards food, towards rent, towards utilities, that type of thing, that way you can get yourself into the position and get yourself steady," Jessica Bleile, who is with United Way, said.

Bleile says they don't always have a volunteer at the Community Closet, and that they ask people to sign in when they're there.

They had about 20 people sign in during November.

Although that number is significantly lower than Open Closet's, both organizations work together to ensure that a person, no matter their background, is dressed for success.

"That's why it's such a good mission," Patters said.

You can learn more about the

 Open Closet here

. Learn more about the

Community Closet here.