A different kind of retail therapy…
By Elle Parker
Photography by Kimberlee Miller
Sometimes, a problem can seem so big, so vast, that it is unconquerable. This simply isn’t true—anyone can help others far beyond themselves, by doing something as small as giving away their used garments. In Boise, a nonprofit called “The Closet” is utilizing donated clothing to create change by bringing love into its afflicted homeless and low-income communities. Many teenagers whose families struggle financially often lack the means to even put clothes on their back. Since opening its doors nine years ago, The Closet and its founder, Kelly McMurry, have assisted over five thousand kids in need.
Back in 2010, Kelly decided she was finished with volunteer work after being head of the PTA at her children’s elementary school. Initially, McMurry was confused on what came next for her, but the opportunity for her to clothe teens in need rapidly revealed itself. The clothes, supplies, and even the clients that she needed for The Closet to function all fell into place. Within months, it was open for business. Today, the youth that this nonprofit assists are recommended through guidance counselors, juvenile correction facilities, homeless shelters, mental health facilities, and the foster care system.
McMurry aids boys and girls, grades 6-12, of all shapes and sizes. These teens are allowed to bring up to 12 items away with them, and variety is strongly encouraged. When the clients enter, they receive a shopping cart and are given a brief tour of the building before the shopping begins. In addition to providing secondhand clothes, The Closet also stocks brand-new undergarments and socks. Kelly is exceedingly grateful for the consistent generosity of local retailers and donors, as they are the reason The Closet is able to accomplish its vision.
As I spoke with Kelly, I noticed one central theme: love. “It’s our job to unconditionally love everyone who walks through the door,” McMurry avidly expressed to me. While her primary goal is to clothe kids, she also creates a personal relationship with each of her clients and cares about them “far beyond their bag of clothes”. She schedules all appointments herself over the phone, as she feels it helps her start a relationship with the customer and their parent(s). Not only does Kelly do this, but she also slips a small, handwritten note into every kid’s bag. Many of her recurring clients have come back in, grinning with their card in hand. At the end of the spree, all their clothes are placed in a plain-black shopping bag, one without a logo. These blank bags allow for kids to tell whatever story they may need about their clothes, because it can be embarrassing for many teens to admit to others that they’re in a difficult financial situation. Kelly said she definitely doesn’t need her logo on the bag or credit for the clothes. She joked about her love for the bags, saying: “[I would] sell my left arm to continue them.”
Another special feature of this nonprofit is its “signature wall” on the side of the dressing rooms that each customer signs after they’ve found all their desired items. One of the many quotes scrawled on the wall read: “Thank you so much, not only for the clothes, but I got to smile and laugh and build a life worth living.” Tears filled my eyes as I read and admired the heartfelt comments, penned in all different colors, with one thing in common: showing gratitude toward Kelly and her team. The sign above the dressing room respectively says: “Today, I am thankful.”
McMurry believes the concept of The Closet could go far beyond Idaho, potentially even on a nationwide scale. With the support that Boise has given, she is certain other cities could take this idea even further. When I asked Kelly what she was most proud of, she said that simply being the founder of an organization making a difference was her crowning achievement. She emphasized her honor in running The Closet, telling me ardently: “I consider what I do nothing short of a privilege.” With your financial contribution and clothing donations, Kelly can continue to help and love on these teens who are often overlooked.
For more information, visit TheClosetInc.org, donate at thecloset.maxgiving.com/pay/step_1, or drop clothes off at 10338 W. Fairview Avenue. Follow Kelly’s social media at “The Closet Boise” on Facebook and Instagram.