Angels Closet, an outreach that assists low-income individuals and families, has moved into a new downtown building with more space to store goods meant for people in need.
The store, which provides material goods for free to those who qualify based on income, is now at 410 S. Summit St. That is also where clients seeking rent, utility and other assistance can receive help.
The services had been operated in the same building as the Angels in the Attic thrift store, 109 S. Summit St., for many years. The thrift store will stay at that location, but all other services through the Angels program will move to the new site.
“We outgrew our space there,” Case Management Director Ivy Beals said. “We partnered up with several programs three years ago and those programs outgrew the building that we were in.”
Three Walmart stores and an organization called the Good 360 program donated items faster than they could be distributed. The closet quickly ran out of storage space.
“We had lawnmowers and recliners and everything that kept coming and coming,” Beal said. “We couldn’t get rid of it fast enough because there are some guidelines that go with it.”
Angels Closet also started working with the United Way and its GIV warehouse in Wichita. The warehouse has almost everything imaginable, Beal said, and the merchandise is available at no cost to nonprofit organizations.
“They donated 32 pallets of merchandise the first trip,” she said. “All of our office furniture was also donated.”
Generous financial gifts helped to make the move to a larger space possible. A gift of $48,000 from the Warrender Trust Foundation completely paid off the thrift store in January.
After searching for several months, Beal found a suitable location, but it needed a new roof. Another donor stepped up with $20,000 to help cover that.
“I feel so humbled by the support we have throughout our county,” Beal said. “It totally blows my mind.”
Items at Angels Closet, as opposed to the thrift store, are not for sale. They are given to those who meet the same income guidelines set by the state for food assistance.
“Nothing can be sold here,” she said this week at the new location. “It has to go to families that are in need and it has to go directly from us to them.”
The new facility is not fully operational. Beal said the warehouse still needs a lot of work and organization.
“Our goal is to have it just like a store,” she said. “Clients will book their time to come in, and they will shop for what they need in their homes.”
The new site also will have a computer station for clients to conduct job searches and other needs; there also will be a spot for clients in the criminal justice system to meet with their probation officer.
Almost anything that a family might need can be found in that warehouse. It is packed full of clothing, bedding, kitchen items, home repair needs, lawn car, car maintenance items, furniture, tents, sleeping bags — the list goes on and on.
Beal said there are guidelines governing what items people are allowed receive. Someone who is homeless will be given clothing, tents, sleeping bags and other necessities, but would not be given appliances or other such items that they would be unable to use.
“That is for the households that are really trying, or are on a fixed income and can’t afford those things,” she said.
Recipients also have to sign a form acknowledging that the items can’t be sold or traded. Barcodes are marked through to keep people from trying to return the items to a store for cash.
Beal said she is currently helping seven families furnish homes. Rising costs and circumstances beyond their control rendered them homeless, and they had lost everything, she said. They are now working and have homes, but lack furnishings.
“We’re having to start out from scratch,” she said.
The number of people seeking assistance has greatly increased, Beal said. Before COVID and rising inflation, 30 to 35 households each month requested assistance with utilities or rent. That figure has now doubled.
“Most of these we have never met before,” she said. “We’ve never ever seen them and I’ve been doing this since 2009.”
Many of those seeking assistance work in Wichita, or Ponca City, Okla., so gas costs make it difficult for them to pay their other bills.
“The higher utilities and the higher groceries, it’s more than what I think I’ve ever seen,” she said. “In our household, we’re paying double over what we were paying a year ago.”
The organization normally helps 150 kids with back-to-school supplies — this year it helped about 250.
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