History of Red Deer community clothing service

Christmastime is a traditional time of goodwill and generosity towards others, particularly those who are less fortunate in the community. This is also the time of year when the United Way finishes up its annual appeal for donations to support a wide-variety of charitable organizations and causes.

One of Red Deer’s oldest charitable volunteer organizations is also one that will be losing its United Way support at the end of 2013. That is the Red Deer Community Clothing Service, often commonly referred to as the Clothing Bank.

The idea of creating a community clothing bank was first raised by Father Tom Kroetch, the priest at Sacred Heart Church. Red Deer had experienced phenomenal growth in the 1950s and early 1960s. Unfortunately, despite all of this growth and prosperity, there were increasing numbers of people who found it difficult to make ends meet.

Hence, Father Kroetch’s proposal quickly caught on. A number of people volunteered for the organizing committee. Support came from a number of churches as well many other groups and individuals who wanted to help those in the community who lacked adequate clothing.

By the end of March 1963, there were 15 members on the organizing committee and a potential pool of several dozen volunteers. Trinity Lutheran Church provided the first cash donation. The first investment was the purchase of a sewing machine. Thus, the Red Deer Community Clothing Bank was born.

The City of Red Deer offered its support by providing space rent-free in the basement of the old City Hall. However, that building was soon going to be demolished. New rent-free space was soon located across the street in the old Alberta Telephones building.

Unfortunately, the AGT building space was also only available for a brief period of time. The Clothing Bank moved to the second floor of Bert’s Cold Storage building on the west end of Ross St. then to the Foster Block on Gaetz Ave. and 52 St. and finally to the old Woolworth building on Gaetz Ave. just north of Ross St.

These were somewhat cramped, but generally adequate locations. However, unlike the space in the old City Hall and old AGT building, rent and utilities had to be paid. The City initially provided a grant of $900 towards the rent. However, the City felt that another regular funding source would be better. Consequently, in 1967, the Clothing Bank became a United Way agency, with the United Way providing the annual funds towards the costs of rent and utilities.

Money and resources remained incredibly tight. The Clothing Bank used donations, incredible frugality and innovation to keep going. A small thrift shop provided some revenue. All labour was donated. Volunteers did all the sorting and mending. Local drycleaners provided free cleaning when needed. Scraps were turned into quilts. Bundles of rags were sold to local garages and other such businesses that needed clean-up cloths.

In 1971, the name of the organization was changed to the Community Clothing Service from the Clothing Bank. In 1975, the Service moved to its current location in the old Jack’s Department Store building on Ross St.

That same year, the Clothing Service was named the Citizens’ Group of the Year by the Red Deer Chamber of Commerce.

Over the decades, there have been many ups and downs, and times when the service was unsure if it could survive. What had not gone down is the number of users. In the first year of operation, the Clothing Service assisted more than 2,000. Now the numbers average 1,100 per month.

Hopefully, as it has done in the past, the community will rally to make sure that this highly-used and valuable volunteer charitable service will continue on in 2014 and for many years to come.

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