5 minute read

Brown County’s Community Closet

Volunteers Sally Sanders and Susanne Brinkley at the checkout counter.

~story and photos by Chrissy Alspaugh

With morning temperatures still in the single digits, 84-year-old Truvenia “Toots” Finley makes as quick of a trip as she can from the Community Closet thrift store’s jampacked sorting room to the outdoor storage shed housing donations that won’t fit inside the tiny shop.

The back and forth rhythm of fetching clothing bags and household items that need sorted and priced paces the days Finley volunteers at the nonprofit store at 284 S. Van Buren St.—beneath the back of the Subway restaurant.

Some of her trips are farther, to the enclosed trailer storing donations that the out-of-space shop will pass on to other organizations.

“None of it is convenient,” said Joyce Snyder, the Community Closet’s board president. “We’ve just outgrown our space so fast. We would love to move into a bigger space to be able to serve our community better.”

The Community Closet thrift store and community-assistance agency will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2024, and the organization can’t imagine a better gift than a larger location to help expand its offerings to the Brown County community.

Established in 1974, Community Closet is a service organization that provides financial assistance, goods, and services to low-income Brown County residents during times of crisis. The nonprofit also donates to more than 20 community organizations including the schools’ weekend backpacks meal program, Shop with a Cop, the Veterans Coalition, and more.

The assistance is possible because of the income generated by the Community Closet thrift shop, which resells donations of gently used clothing, home decor, kitchen wares, and more. The store is open to the public on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

With no paid staff, the shop relies on the dedication and availability of volunteers. That allows the organization to funnel every dollar of the store’s net income back to Brown County nonprofits and pre-screened individuals in need.

Sometimes residents need help paying rent; others are welcomed into the store to select clothing and household essentials for free.

The Community Closet provided support to one Brown County man in the fall of 2022 when he said he felt like he was on the verge of losing everything.

The 12-year Brown County resident, recommended for this interview by the Community Closet’s board members but who asked to remain anonymous, said he was working as a federal defense contractor in May 2022 when an on-the-job injury left him in need of knee replacement to return to work. Stuck between surgery delays and the end of his workman’s compensation, the man said he sold everything he could but feared losing the home where he lives with his wife, son, and three grandchildren. The Community Closet stepped in to help with rent and a truck payment.

“I had so much pressure on me, and when somebody says they’re going to help it’s just such a relief. We’re blessed to be in a community that cares about other people,” he said. Now nearly healed from his end-of-November knee replacement, the grateful community member said he has applied for a reserve officer position with the Nashville Police Department and hopes to give back to the community that helped during his time of need.

The Community Closet gave out more assistance in 2022 than any other year in its history: $25,000.

Susanne Brinkley, the nonprofit’s board secretary, said the group is committed to increasing its giving in years to come.

To make that happen, the store needs more volunteers to work 3.5-hour shifts, which would allow the Community Closet to add days the store is open, she said.

Snyder said the nonprofit also must increase its visibility in the community. “A lot of Brown County residents don’t even know we’re here,” she said, noting the store has begun increasing its local marketing and launched a newsletter with coupons that customers can sign up for inside the store.

But the nonprofit’s biggest hurdle will be finding a new location with more square footage, Snyder said. The current lack of space is noticeable daily to the volunteers who move donations between the store, outdoor shed, and trailer—as well as to the volunteers who launder soiled clothing donations in their own homes because the store lacks a washer and dryer.

Pat Harden and Toots Finley sort through new donations.

Pat Harden and Toots Finley sort through new donations.

The space limitations prevent the Community Closet from being able to offer furniture to individuals in need, Snyder said. “Families who lost their homes in a fire would greatly benefit from that kind of help,” she said.

Board members have begun exploring Brown County buildings that might be an ideal new home.

Working to fund a down-payment, the nonprofit has launched a building fund that now sets aside 15 percent of store sales for the eventual purchase of a new space. Brinkley said the board is exploring grant opportunities and eagerly would welcome a volunteer grant writer.

Vicki Payne, the board’s treasurer, said nothing compares to being able to help struggling community members, and she can’t wait for the Community Closet to be able to help in bigger ways.

“It feels great knowing the Closet can help folks over their bump and get them back on their feet,” Payne said. “When folks we’ve helped come into the store to thank us, the look on their face is just the best feeling in the world.”

Community Closet thrift store hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays. For information, 812-988-6003 or visit “Brown County Community Closet, New” on Facebook.