COAL CITY – Volunteers loaded clothes, car seats and other goods Thursday into a semitrailer stationed outside Coal City Clothes Closet.
“We have six more trailers out back totally full of stuff,” said Kathy Milne, owner and founder of the Clothes Closet, a nonprofit store where families in need can take whatever they wish, free of charge.
The closet – which opened in Coal City about five years ago – has seen a substantial increase in donations since Sunday’s tornado.
A EF2 tornado came through Coal City and Diamond shortly after noon Sunday, with winds above 120 mph that left four people injured and damaged 220 homes in the area.
“We are completely donation based,” said Gordon Milne, Kathy’s husband and co-founder and owner of the Clothes Closet. “We always have good inventory. We see donations on a daily basis, but we’ve seen a lot more since the storm.”
Typically, the closet has about 20 volunteers a week working to sort and stock the store.
“[Wednesday] we had 55 volunteers here and we’ll probably hit that again [Thursday],” Kathy Milne said.
Pam Stryker of Lockport drove a car full of donations to the store Thursday morning and stayed through the afternoon to help fold and label the clothes.
“I used to live in Coal City,” Stryker said. “It was in my heart to come here as soon as I heard about it. I will probably be back three or four more times with even more stuff.”
Gordon Milne said they have seen people from throughout the state dropping off supplies.
“We just had a limousine full of stuff pull up from somewhere by Chicago,” he said.
The organization is running low on storage supplies because of the influx of donations.
“I’m in dire need of totes, plastic totes. I try to stay away from the cardboard because of the bugs,” Kathy Milne said.
The closet also needs hangers, Sharpie markers, masking tape, large garbage bags and other organizational supplies to help get the inventory sorted.
Tornado victims are encouraged to take whatever clothes, bedding, furniture or household supplies they may need. Milne said they have seen a few of the affected families in the store already.
“We prefer if they come in and pick out the clothes themselves,” Gordon Milne said. “It’s a personal thing. If I pick out your clothes, you probably won’t like them.”
While the closet has extended its hours to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day to accommodate the needs of the tornado’s victims, Kathy Milne said serving the area’s homeless and low-income population is still a top priority.
“We have no boundaries,” Gordon Milne said. “Anybody can come from anywhere to get clothing or whatever they need. Tornado victims or not, we are here to help everyone.”
The Milnes run numerous projects throughout the closet that address the needs of low-income and the homeless, including buying school lunches and supplies, serving food to those in need, adopting families at Christmas and more.
Some have specified their clothing donations be given only to tornado victims, but Milne has told them she can make no definite promises. She said they will give as much as the tornado victims need, but whatever is left after will be kept in the store for other families in the area or be sent to other cities in Illinois affected by Sunday’s string of tornadoes.
“After all the other outfits shut down, we’re still going to be here, doing what we do,” Gordon Milne said.
Numerous organizations and government agencies are helping with recovery and clean up efforts in the area. At Coal City Methodist Church victims of the storm still are welcome to come in for food, hygiene items, clothing and supplies, in addition to applying for mini-grants at the location.
The mini-grants are provided through funds from Operation St. Nick, the Community Foundation of Grundy County, We Care of Grundy County and United Way of Grundy County. Because of additional donations – including an anonymous $5,000 donation and funds from Kendall-Grundy Community Action – the organizations have $85,000 to give out in grants, said Joe Schmitz, founder and president of St. Nick. This amount continues to rise, as well.
Applications for the grants will be taken through Dec. 6. After today, applications can be picked up at Diamond Village Hall. Originally the grants were going to be through gift cards, but now the organizations will give checks. More than 73 applications have been turned in so far.
How to HelpVisit morrisdailyherald.com to view a list of ways you can help those affected by the tornado