Clothing Drive for Returning Citizens
Our motto at The T&T Project is “wrapping our heads, hearts, and hands around the challenges of reintegration after incarceration.” That means that we have to learn about the challenges that returning citizens face, care enough about them to do something, then take action to make a difference. At the beginning of this year, we were doing just that by offering a 12-week prerelease course at 2 different institutions and publishing a transition handbook for use here in the Midlands of South Carolina. Unfortunately, the current pandemic brought our efforts to a screeching halt in mid-March when the South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) temporarily suspended all volunteer activities in all of its institutions. While we are still eagerly awaiting the opportunity to resume our ministry behind the fence, we have been exploring other ways to continue carrying out our calling.
One of the first challenges that returning citizens face when being released is simply acquiring suitable clothing. When inmates are admitted to SCDC facilities, they are offered two choices: either have their street clothes shipped to a home address or donate them to the facility’s clothing closet. Years later when they are released, if the returning citizens don’t have family to bring them suitable clothes, they are issued something from that clothing closet. Clothing closets are often woefully understocked and returning citizens may not even find anything in their size. Transitioning back into society can be a daunting task, and not having clean, comfortable, well-fitting clothes dramatically increases the anxiety. Furthermore, not having appropriate attire for a job interview may be an impediment with long-term consequences. SCDC has no budget or stated requirement to provide suitable clothing to returning citizens so clothing closets at their facilities are almost entirely supported by donations from the community.
Once The T&T Project became aware of this need, we decided to do something about it. First we contacted the reentry coordinators at two prisons in the Columbia area: Manning Pre-release Center (a men’s facility) and Camille Graham (a women’s facility). The coordinators verified the need for clothing, filled in a few details and helped us determine the parameters of what was allowed. We then contacted the outreach coordinator at Sandhills Community Church (a church in Northeast Columbia that we’ve worked with before) and presented a proposal for a clothing closet drive. After working out a few details, Sandhills put out the word to their congregation and we kicked off a 2-week clothing drive. Sandhills allowed us to use one of their children’s ministry classrooms to sort and store donations as they came in. We accepted clothing, shoes, and accessories for both men and women. They had to be clean, tasteful, and in good condition. We scheduled a few working days during and immediately after the drive when anywhere from 2 to 6 volunteers came to fold, sort, and box all the donations. Once we had everything boxed, we contacted the reentry coordinators back to schedule delivery. In the end we were able to contribute 20 boxes of men’s clothes and 35 boxes of women’s clothes to those two institutions.
Since SCDC releases around 900 inmates a month from its 21 institutions statewide, our contribution, though substantial, was a drop in the bucket. The need for clothing is significant and ongoing. Fortunately we were able to demonstrate how easy it is for a church to set up and execute a successful clothing drive. It is our intention to enlist a network of churches that will conduct clothing drives annually or semi-annually to meet this need. Furthermore, we pray that the clothing drives may begin to open other people’s eyes and hearts to this field that is ripe for harvest right in our own communities.
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:37–40 (NIV)
For more information or assistance in setting up a clothing drive at your church, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.