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Lending A Helping Hand For Over Four Decades: Marion Fisher And The Klothes Kloset
Montana Senior News, June/July 2013
If you've ever wondered what makes a good yardstick for determining the state of the economy, wonder no more. According to Marion Fisher, rags hold the answer. As a long-time volunteer for the Klothes Kloset, a non-profit resale-recycle store, Marion ought to know. She has helped out at this Columbia Falls landmark for over four decades, dating back to when the store first opened and during those years she has observed that whenever white rags get scooped up quickly, it signals a positive financial trend.

“Painters and cabinet makers buy white rags for staining. There are no dyes in the cloth so there’s no color-bleeding when they’re dipped in solvent,” notes Marion, a great-grandmother ten times over. “When we sell lots of those rags, it means construction is up and people are working.”

Considering the Klothes Kloset rang up its first sale in 1970, it no doubt qualifies as one of the oldest thrift stores in Montana. Organized through a non-denominational charity, Church Women United, it deals with much more than selling rags or previously owned blouses and blue jeans. The Klothes Kloset donates its profits to community education scholarships and the Columbia Falls Food Pantry among many other worthy causes and passes along everything from puzzles and school supplies to Head Start.

Unlike many seemingly similar thrift-type stores, the Klothes Kloset also has a workroom. That is where those rags Marion mentioned are cut and bagged; where donated yarns can be purchased; and where volunteers of many faiths gather to stitch together quilts and lap robes crafted from donated material and clothing.

“We make the quilts and lap robes to give to schools, the police, moms on the run, and nursing homes from Eureka to Polson. We never have to recruit volunteers; people come by to help on their own. They enjoy the fellowship of those who are involved and like that we’re making a difference in many lives. We’re one of the few groups with such a large mission project. Our resale shop has an emphasis on recycling as well as on helping people in need,” says Marion, who estimates that at least one woman comes in weekly requiring assistance because of fire, illness, divorce, abuse, or a host of other reasons.

“I’m interested in helping my neighbor. If you can help someone locally, that’s where you start. It’s far more important to help your neighbor than to pass him by to do good at a distance. And if we can’t outfit someone through the store,” adds Marion, “we’ll buy whatever is needed for that person.”

Not surprisingly, Marion and her coworkers do everything possible to take care of those, such as children, unable to fend for themselves. When she or store manager Kris Skyberg say, “No child should go without underwear, shoes, or a coat” they mean it.

Kris recounts an especially touching Christmas when she had an opportunity to put those words into action. “I received a call from a woman whose home had caught on fire. She needed clothing for her and her kids,” recalls Kris. “It was Christmas Eve and I didn’t want to leave my family but I drove over to the store to meet her and found her shivering, coatless, on the doorstep. After locating a winter coat for her, I tried—unsuccessfully—to find warm coats to fit her son and daughter. I had about given up when the idea came to check the latest donations left on our loading dock. The first bag I opened had two children’s coats right on top: one for a boy and one for a girl and they were a perfect fit for this woman’s children.”

For Kris, it was a memorable evening not just for the way needs were met but for the wake-up message she received that her holiday could only be made richer—not poorer—by assisting someone less fortunate and by making good use of what was already at hand.

As Marion explains, shop volunteers do their best to live by words she has long been familiar with: “Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or go without.” The first three lines are from a U.S. Government poster issued in 1943 to remind Americans to be frugal and resourceful at home to support the war effort abroad.

“When you see the amount of goods no longer wanted,” says Marion, “you ask yourself, What would happen to all this if it wasn’t recycled?” That explains why volunteers bother to cut rags from stained, ripped, or unsold clothing and why they salvage buttons and extra-long zippers for resale.

True to their mission, these volunteers rarely toss out anything except for dirty clothes because they have no laundry facilities to clean them. However, they take clean clothes of all types and sizes. This includes medical scrubs, scout uniforms, baby outfits, and garments that none of the volunteers would ever willingly wear outside the shop’s walls.

“We save the ugly things for Halloween and for theater costumes,” says Marion, who has been amazed time and again to see people buy even those fashion-challenged articles of clothing.

Among the few items the Klothes Kloset won’t handle are heavy bulky things that a woman can’t easily move such as sofas or beds. When people drop them off at the shop’s loading dock thinking they are doing folks a favor they’re actually costing them money because someone has to be hired to cart them away.

“We don’t have the storage or manpower for those kinds of items,” explains Marion. “Among the volunteers, we call ourselves the Double K Department Store because principally, we’re a dry goods store.”

Volunteers who sort through the donations remain on the lookout for anything that may have some value. When pretty necklaces or pieces of china come in that look extra special, they are set aside for the shop’s annual one-day Christmas sale.

“We don’t get as much valuable jewelry or dishes as we used to. Nowadays, people take more pains to go through things before donating,” remarks Marion, who like her cohorts at the Klothes Kloset, feels passionately about the importance of volunteering within one’s community and recommends it to everyone.

“Never pass up an opportunity to volunteer something of yourself, whether it’s your household goods or your bad jokes,” says Marion. “You have to get satisfaction from something. At a place like the Klothes Kloset, you see an ending to your efforts like when you make a pie. You see the people that you help. You feel their hugs or see the shoes that fit a little boy.

For Marion, watching smiles light up the faces of the people she helps makes everyone’s contributions worthwhile.

The Klothes Kloset is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00 – 4:00 at 286 Nucleus Avenue in Columbia Falls. Call 406-892-4534 for more information.