By Ashley Laracey
November 21, 2016
NEW YORK, NY — Thousands of people waited in line today at First Corinthians Baptist Church in Harlem for a chance to “shop” for free, high-end clothing at the fifth annual Clothing Mall Drive.
In addition to the long line of customers circling the perimeter of the block, volunteers and thirty members of the church, located at 116th street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd., gathered to serve their community.
“We are called to serve, and our motto is we are in an ever-evolving community of visionaries and dreamers who have been called by God to serve, to live, and to love,” said Hannah Hunt, head organizer of the event and a member of First Corinthians for ten years.
The idea behind this event is that even less fortunate people can have a similar shopping experience as people with more means, except that everything here is free.
In preparation for today’s shopping extravaganza, the collection process spanned the entire month of October. Over 100 giant trash bags filled with new or gently used clothing (only high quality items accepted), were donated by members of the congregation and community, along with featured donated items from designer labels including 80 brand new coats from Free Country, and dresses in all sizes from Jessica Howard and Maggie London.
“We would like to offer them as many new items as possible, or very very gently used items,” said Hunt. “If anything collected is not like we would wear it, we don’t give it away, we throw it in the garbage. We go to all the shelters in the community, we hand them invitations to please come and shop with us.”
Each customer is allowed 15 pieces of clothing, 2 coats, and 3 pairs of shoes and are given 20 ticket vouchers to “pay” for their selections.
The church’s shopping mall is two floors; the entrance level included women’s clothing, handbags, the shoe department and jewelry and accessories, while the upstairs featured men’s clothing and shoe department, formal wear, and a junior’s and children’s section.
Signs pointing to different departments, racks of clothes, shelves of shoes and tables adorned with handbags awaited customers just as Bloomingdale’s might.
“What we do is try to make it as a department store kind of setting, they choose what they’d like. This is their shopping experience,” said Hunt.
“I’m excited for this event. Yeah, because it comes every year, they got clothes, boots, shoes. They even got some food up in there too. I’m most looking forward to some suits and some boots, that’s what I really need,” said Kirk James, who is homeless.
At 10am the clothing mall was open for business, fully equipped with volunteers stocking the shelves and personal shoppers assisting customers.
“I try to help them and look at them and then try to give them something that I feel they will like. Most of the time they like it,” said volunteer and Reverend Eunire Sengle. “You can tell by people’s personalities what they like.”
For families or single people, the Clothing Mall has everything.
“I think the most valuable items we’ve distributed have been children’s clothing cause it’s great when you see a family come in and they can shop for all — it’s one stop shopping,” said volunteer Shavon Glover.
One lucky customer will even make their journey back home or to a shelter for the night in style, as a brand new fur coat was up for grabs.
Anything remaining on the racks will be donated to Cathedral Cares, a food pantry, shelter and gathering place for people in need.