Lieutenant Ivonne Rodriguez, corps officer at the Salvation Army’s Lebanon, Pa., Corps, admits she was taken aback when she heard that Walmart wanted to donate clothing to their church.
“My first answer was, ‘Are you sure? You can donate anything you have to the Army’s thrift store,’” remembers Lieutenant Ivonne. “Walmart said that this time they wanted to donate new clothing directly to us, and they wanted us to give it away for free. We had done some events where we gave away coats to the community, but never something as big as this.”
Walmart stores from Lebanon and nearby Palmyra brought 30 pallets stacked with boxes full of new clothing to the corps gym. The corps officers and volunteers immediately turned the gym into a combination of a walk–through food pantry and a clothing pop–up store. Tables were lined up and labeled to have clothing for infants, children, or adults.
Another side of the gym was reserved for shoes and hats. A clothesline with hangers had a row of men’s button–down shirts. There were even kids’ bathing suits, caps, and water shoes. Though most of the clothing was for spring and summer, there were still a few winter jackets in case someone still needed one.
“We were at the church since 4:30 a.m. that morning,” says Lieutenant Marlon Rodriguez. “Local media had come early to talk about the event. As we were wrapping up and I was walking out with the reporter at 5:30 a.m., there was already someone waiting, wanting to be the first one here.”
When the doors to the gym opened at 10 a.m., the line of people waiting for clothing was down the block, circling around the corps building. Lieutenant Marlon says the event was a success in addressing the need of the community.
“It made us so happy that Walmart trusted us to handle this clothing. It shows us that they believe in the work and the mission of The Salvation Army,” says Lieutenant Marlon. “I was also thrilled that most of the clothes were for the upcoming warmer season because that’s what people are looking for right now. That’s what we’re here for; to help and provide right now.”
Seeing long lines of people waiting for clothing made the officers alter their schedule for the event. The original plan was to do two shifts of the clothing drive, one in the morning and another in the afternoon so families who had to work could come later. Meanwhile, the gym would close for one hour at noon so the staff and volunteers could take a break. Instead, the gym stayed open through the day.
“We didn’t want to tell people who had been waiting since noon that, ‘we’re on break, come back later,’” says Lieutenant Marlon. “So instead, we called up a few extra volunteers to fill in shifts and continue to work while our first volunteers took lunch, then came back so the others could eat.”
Both corps officers agree that the corps volunteers have been crucial in the success of the clothing giveaway. Lieutenant Ivonne beamed as she talked about volunteers Vicky and Kelissa, a mother and daughter who organized the pallets of clothing sent by Walmart.
“They opened all the boxes, checked what type of clothing each contained, labeled each box, and set them so that we always knew where to go if ran low on a table,” says Lieutenant Ivonne.
“Every event is for the good of the community, but every event is also different, with moving parts and days of planning ahead,” says Lieutenant Marlon. “This required volunteers to organize the clothing. The day of the event, we had volunteers go to the line of people and pre-register them and mark what size and type of clothing they needed.”
This was done to move the line faster, and to make the experience inside the gym move faster and be more efficient. Volunteers guided every person to their clothing, and then showed them where to go so that they would not run into other shoppers coming in.
“We needed assistance for every aspect of this program, from organization to working one–on–one with the community. We could not do this, or any program, without the strength of our volunteers.”
In total, as many as 1,000 men, women, and children walked out of the gymnasium that day with new clothing, thanks to Walmart and the work of the Salvation Army’s Lebanon, Pa., Corps.