Caring Hands Ministries gave away free children’s clothes Friday at Faith Outreach Church in Cleveland, and one thing was certain: It was a sight to see.
More people turned up than ever before in the event’s 10 years. Before the doors opened at 4 p.m., family members of all shapes, sizes and ages lined up outside and volunteers let them in early.
Right inside the door, volunteers handed out cups of juice and cookies. Inside a larger room, tables were lined with piles of clothes, arranged by size.
Although the room was packed, families calmly shuffled through the room, sifting through the stacks and stuffing the right sizes in whatever they brought — tote bags, laundry buckets, grocery bags and even trash bags.
"With the tough financial situation, it certainly helps," Carol Tyree, who brought several of her children from Cornelia, said while standing in line outside. "I’m not sure what to expect."
Phillip Velasquez, a resident of Cleveland, said it’s hard enough buying items for himself, let alone a growing 10-year-old son.
"I’m a single parent, and he goes up another size every few months," he said. "I saved some money for clothes, but I’m looking for the simple things now — school supplies."
Volunteers hovered at the sides of the room, waiting to help families put clothes in bags. Jean Pfiel, who works at Faith Lutheran Church, decided to volunteer when several people mistakenly called her church and asked for directions. She worked at a food bank on Thursday night and recognized some of the same people.
"More than 150 families showed up for food, and I talked to people sitting. A lot of people who were self-employed don’t have any unemployment money," she said. "There are 750-plus out of work in just White County right now."
As parents searched for clothes, children picked through accessories and some toys. Elena King, a third-grader at White County Intermediate School, found clothes for school as her younger brother, Brandon, picked up a blue monster truck.
"It makes loud noises," he said, smiling and pointing to the engine as his favorite part of the truck.
In another corner of the room, Alex Murner picked out clothes to take home to his sister. "I found a few sweatshirts — you know, dads being dads — I had to look for clothes that go down to her fingertips and are three inches at the shoulder," the student from Chestatee High School said with a laugh. "Something like this really helps the community with the economy as it is, especially with clothes."
As families left with full bags, Pfiel acknowledged the importance of ongoing events in the area.
"More and more people need help in different ways, and they need a regular helping hand. What are they going to do, relocate?" she said. "They’re looking for help, for whoever will open up doors."