The Giving Closet: Recycling for those in need

“Giving hope, where love changes everything.”

In the Brookings community that simple message translates to action by The Giving Closet. Its mission: “To give hope to those who feel they are all alone in the world.” 

That mission is accomplished via a simple, charitable and hands-on approach.

“We recycle your new and gently used donations and give to those in Brookings in need,” explained Mary Robinson, founder and director of the Closet, which she opened in May 2017 in memory of her step-son, Tim Nelson, who died in November 2016. 

She recalls him as “always there to help his friends and those in need.”

“There is no better way to recycle your belongings than to donate to families in need,” Robinson said. “Did you get new clothing, but it doesn’t fit right … wrong size … lost sale receipt and not able to return … maybe not what your child wanted or could use … had a birthday, baby or wedding gift and received two of the same item … or have new pots and pans and not sure what to do with the old set?”

In the two years since it opened its doors, the Giving Closet has aided more than 4,100 families; 4,600 adults; and 6,700 children.

In her regular job, Robinson is family self-sufficiency coordinator at Brookings Housing and Redevelopment Commission, whose role is “to assist individuals who are in low-income housing to get off welfare and help them so they can become self-sufficient.”

A boost over the bump

“But it’s not always individuals who need housing assistance,” Robinson said, of the people with whom she comes in contact on a near daily basis. “It may be individuals who have had something happen in their lives: a child that all of a sudden has cancer, taking in a grandchild, maybe taking care of their elderly parents, maybe a house fire.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s two people working at 3M or if it’s a single parent. Everybody has things that happen in their life; and when things happen, they need somebody they can to turn to or somebody they can go to for a hand up – a boost to get them over that bump to be able to get on to that next step in their life.

“That’s where the Giving Closet burst from. I talked to my employers. I had this idea; this is what I’d like to do.”

When she started in 2017, she had a modest goal of helping three to five people or families per month. As she approaches her two-year anniversary, the Giving Closet is serving on average about 250 people or families a month.

Carrie Tomaszewski recently came to the Closet board of directors. She “takes in the donations and readies the items for giving.” 

In addition to personal items, clothing, cleaning supplies and linens, people bring in a variety of spendable items. 

“Some of the items that we also receive are gift cards, for Wal-Mart and HyVee,” Tomaszewski said. Also welcomed are BATA tokens, available when “a vehicle breaks down.”

Some larger items the Closet doesn’t normally accept include large furniture pieces, such as beds, couches and tables. But one Closet board member has a garage that can sometimes accommodate such items.

Dress for success  

One unique offering of the Closet is professional clothing. 

”We do have a lot of business attire, some for women and some for men,” Tomaszewski said.

“There are a lot of times when people are first starting out and needing work interview clothes,” Robinson added. “And a lot of times they are required to have that clothing immediately when starting a job.” 

The Closet is not a nonprofit entity. A two-way street, it operates on donations coming in from the community and going out to the community. People who need the services find the Closet; on other occasions, the Closet finds them.

“It’s a little bit of both,” Robinson said. In addition to her job with the Housing Commission, she’s affiliated with a variety of other charitable agencies, so she’s in a position to know where the closet might be able to help. She calls it “verifiable referral.”

“That means I need to know for an individual to come to the Closet (for assistance) that there is a true identified need,” she explained. “Otherwise they’re going to be going without items. When I talk about those items, I’m talking about basic essentials, not anything extravagant but about day-to-day things that you need.”

While the Closet does receive monetary donations, which are used to pay the rent for some of its spaces or to buy needed items which are not donated, it does not pass money to its clients. However, the Closet does refer clients to other agencies that also serve those in need, such as the food pantry.

“The Giving Closet isn’t always about coming in and getting an item,” Robinson explained. “Sometimes it’s about coming in and just talking about a situation that’s going on. Sometimes it’s about helping people find referrals, such as in winter finding out about the Energy Assistance Program or where they can go to get winter coats and clothing.”

There are plenty of options available for making donations to the Giving Closet. Its list of “most needed items” includes: Gift cards (e.g. Hy-Vee, Walmart, meal cards, gas cards, oil changes); BATA tokens; pre-paid phones and phone cards (for individuals leaving domestic violence situations); pots, pans, hand-held can openers, kitchen utensils and eating utensils; and air mattresses with pumps (for people without beds).

The Closet is willing to partner with other agencies in the Brookings area that help the Closet with its mission.

Donations may be dropped off personally at: The Giving Closet, located at the Brookings Housing Office, 1310 Main Ave. S., No. 106 on Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Call 692-1670 to schedule a donation drop-off time.

Robinson may also be contacted at to make a donation or receive additional information.

Monetary donations may be sent to: The Giving Closet, P.O. Box 432, Brookings, SD, 57006.

COURTESY OF: The Brookings Register

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