The youth ministry at First Lutheran Church in Onalaska has started a clothes closet of gently used clothing specifically for teens who could use some extra help.

The idea for the ministry, named ACTS 20:35, came from members of the church’s youth ministry and Marla Meyer, the high school and young adult ministry coordinator for the church.

The group was aware of the Women’s Clothes Closet in La Crosse and a clothes closet for small children, also in La Crosse, but noted there wasn’t any place for teens in need to go. “We believe this age segment was missed,” said Meyer.

Meyer met with her high school ministry group at Dairy Queen in Onalaska and formed the plan for the clothes closet, which they named for a Bible verse that calls for helping the weak and contains these immortal words: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

“I had the idea of the clothes closet after taking many kids from our church on mission trips,” Meyer said. “We have been to many different states and have helped many people. I was looking for a way our youth and church could bring the giving spirit home and give back to this community.”

Meyer, who also works with the school district, said she has seen students having a tough time, including teens who support themselves and don’t have money for clean clothing for work and school. She also has seen the eagerness of the youth group to be involved in the project and to do something to give back.

Lexi Carl, a sophomore at Onalaska High School, is one of the planners and volunteers of the ministry. She and other volunteers meet at the clothes closet in a house across the street from the church to sort, fold or hang donations.

Carl said she has never been in the situation where she was not able to wear clean, relatively fashionable clothing to school. “I’ve known people in that situation, and I wished I could help them,” she said.

Jack Wieman, another sophomore, said he helps because it makes him feel good.

ACTS 20:35 accepts donations of gently used clothing items that are still in fashion. “We want kids to feel good about themselves when they put it on,” Meyer said. “What a difference it makes for kids who can put on something from American Eagle or Hollister.”

She said parents are happy, too, because they know they can’t afford certain things, but they see how happy it makes their children. The clothes closet has everything from homecoming dresses to jeans and hoodies, purses, jewelry and shoes for boys and girls.

Meyer said she just put out a call for winter coats.

People hear about the ministry through the church, but the word is getting out to the schools and the community.

Meyer said she had a grandmother come in last Friday who was raising her three grandchildren. The woman meekly asked if she could have a jar of lotion that had been donated with other toiletry items, which are always in need.

Visitors to the clothes closet do not have to go to the church. The church purchased a home directly across the street at 203 Fourth Ave. S. and has remodeled and freshened it up with some remodeling and new paint.

While the downstairs is used for small group meetings and ministries, the upstairs is taken over by the youth ministry and clothes closet.

Due to its newness, visits to the clothes closet are by appointment only. Meyer said as they get more organized and find out regular patterns of visitors, regular hours can be set. While the youth volunteers help with sorting, folding and hanging donated items, Meyer is responsible for meeting with the families or student and for distributing items to them.

For an appointment, contact the church at 783-2236 or office@ firstlu.org.

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