Church’s free clothing store gives thousands needed help


Tuesdays, the Bethel Community Church clothing store is open for business, but it won’t earn a cent.

The basement operation, which spills into several rooms and offers clothes, coats, shoes and toys for babies, toddlers, kids and adults, is all donation-based and 100 percent free to those who shop there.

“We have an open-arms policy,” said Kim Murray, who runs the shop. “Everything is free. And we have given away a bunch of clothes.”

Tuesday the store was open for extended hours: until 6 p.m. rather than its usual 1 p.m. closing time, to give people with different schedules a chance to stop by.

At the noon hour, about 30 to 40 people wandered around, eyeing clothes, filling bags, all checking in at the counter before they left so a volunteer could weigh their items for record-keeping.

Jerry Hoffman stopped in Tuesday after his mom brought up the giveaway several times in reference to his sons, Caden and Skyler, who live in Kalispell with their mom.

He sorted through the table of boys’ clothes, heaped high with shirts and pants.

Hoffman carefully picked through the pile, holding up an item to review it before neatly folding it up and either placing it back on the table or in a plastic shopping bag.

“They’re just growing so fast it’s hard to keep up with them,” he said. “I’m hoping it all fits. I’m not sure of their shirt size.”

Working as a roofer pays well during warmer months, Hoffman said, but it leaves him short during the winter and he knows Kalispell’s been cold this year.

“If I were to have to go and buy them … ” he said with a frown. “This seems to be the time they run out of clothes.”

Andrea Fitzpatrick toted her twin 7-month-olds in two baby carriers into the store to look for onesies to replace their older brothers’ hand-me-downs.

She heard about the giveaway just yesterday and had a couple of bags filled after a few minutes in the store, stashed in one baby carrier behind the counter while she continued to pick through clothes, baby hanging off one arm, the other asleep in a carrier at her feet.

“I’m one of those ladies who looks for zippers,” she said. “’Cause I’m all about efficiency.”

But she mostly found buttoned clothes on the table, eventually gathering up her daughters, Adina and Ayelet, and made her way out of the church, several bags of clothes accompanying the baby carrier in each hand.

“Some lady walked up to me the other day and asked if it was easy,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s not the word I would use.”

Murray and some other churchgoers started giving away free clothes at one-day events starting in 2010.

“This all started, quite honestly, as a bunch of women in a Bible study complaining we couldn’t fit into our jeans,” Murray said.

Four or five of those events later, the demand grew and the church was willing to donate more rooms in their basement to the cause.

Now they’re open every Tuesday, serving more than 4,000 visitors last year and Murray said they’ve had around 12,000 people come since they started regular hours in 2012.

Murray’s background is in marketing and that’s helped her network with other donation-based centers in town like the YWCA, Salvation Army, Poverello Center, Missoula Shirt Works, etc. You name the place; Murray’s gotten clothes from them.

“We kind of had a deal with God: You keep sending us clothes and people, we’ll keep putting them out,” Murray said. “He’s what makes it work.”

“I won’t say it’s quite miraculous,” another volunteer, David Paul, jumped in, “but it sure seems like it from where we stand.”

The church prefers donations be dropped off Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. while volunteers are there, but there is a donation bin in the parking lot.