Clothing against the cold

Of Cabbages and Kings


File photo

Volunteers help Cheney Clothing Exchange director Connie Oakes, right, sort through the bounty of donations that will clothe needy families this winter.

A young mother in a threadbare jacket holds the hand of her shivering little boy, who wears a too-small sweater and ragged pants. The soles of his shoes flop with each step he takes. They cross the street and enter the Cheney Clothing Exchange.

Twenty minutes later a mother and son cross the same street. The little boy, wearing warm boots and mittens and zipped into a fleece lined snowsuit, skips and smiles. His mother, now tucking her gloved hands into the pockets of a warm quilted coat, hums a tune as they walk toward home.

Because of the volunteers who work at Cheney Clothing Exchange this story can come true for many people in need.

Connie Oakes, director of Cheney Clothing Exchange, said, “We’ve been really busy the last couple weeks.” Oakes has worked at the clothing exchange since she began volunteering there in 1993 when Pat and Orval Tiedt were in charge of it. She said, “I came off and on between jobs and while I was working on my BA at EWU.”

Four years ago when the Wren Pierson building collapsed under the avalanche of snow, many helping hands transferred the contents of the clothing exchange to a space at the United Church of Christ. Oakes said the organization has been going strong ever since. Betty Boundage, Oakes’ mother, works full time with her daughter. Several other helpers come whenever they can.

As I watched, Oakes dug into a huge bag of items. Out came slippers, some pretty, some obviously comfortable. Blouses and pants, pajamas and shoes, coats and sweaters, books, toys and bedding, they all have their particular place at the clothing exchange. Sometimes there are curtains and sheets to give away. “We don’t have room for the big stuff like furniture,” Oakes said.

The clothing bank tries hard to keep everything clean. It would be nice if some day they could have more space.

There are no requirements for those in need, no financial stipulations. Oakes said they don’t screen people, but there is a zip code boundary. All resources go directly to the Cheney area. The food bank and other Cheney organizations that give to the public follow the rules.

“We’re all on the same page,” Oakes said.

The sorting of clothes occupies much of the volunteers’ time. Men’s and women’s clothes are located in separate areas, children’s items as well. There is a storage area where seasonal clothes are stored. Oakes mentioned a need for new socks and underwear in all sizes. Children’s clothes are always needed.

Thank you, volunteers at Cheney Clothing Bank, for providing a place for those who are needy to receive that warm coat, those gloves, that home crocheted cap. And thank you, donators surrounding the Cheney area, who look at all that stuff in the closet at home and decide to give generously for the benefit of others.

Luella Dow is a Cheney-area author who can be reached at


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