Clothing giveaway, organizer step into uncertain future
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For more information about the Rock Assembly of God clothing giveaway, call the church at (608) 756-2232 or visit the church at 2232 Hermitage Lane, Janesville.
JANESVILLE Pat Schwab-Markley kept saying she wasn’t going to cry at her last clothing giveaway.
“My tears would freeze out there,” she said.
But she came close a few times Wednesday as she watched people in need lined up in the bitter cold and again as she saw them rush into the church to get the clothes and toys that would make their holidays brighter.
“Today kind of feels like a funeral,” she said.
It was an ending of sorts, as Schwab-Markley steps back from the program she created 13 years ago and moves on to the next chapter of her life.
The giveaway is entering its next chapter, too, though Rock Assembly of God officials aren’t sure who will lead that chapter, the Rev. Mike Dissmore said.
“We’re going to try our best to keep this thing going,” he said. “The community needs this.”
That much was obvious Wednesday as more than 100 people rushed into the church at 11 a.m. sharp. Many of them had been waiting outside up to an hour wrapped in blankets and coats.
Melody, who preferred not to give her last name, asked to sit inside before the giveaway started because she was sick and had brought her 5-month-old son. She’s been coming to the giveaway ever since she got pregnant, she said.
“It’s been a blessing because I can’t afford baby clothes,” she said.
Each month, the church fills with donated clothes and toys and empties again during the giveaway.
Schwab-Markley comes to the church five or six days a week, accepting and sorting donations, she said. She also brings donations to other service organizations throughout the month.
“It’s a big job, it really is,” Dissmore said. “I couldn’t even estimate how many hours (Schwab-Markley volunteers), probably somewhere between 20 and 30 hours a week on average.”
But she has arthritis in her neck, and sometimes the pain gets to be too much.
“I’ve been praying that God would heal me so I could continue doing this, but I think he has other plans for me,” she said.
She’s confident God has plans for the giveaway, too, even though she’s not sure how it will go on next month.
She’ll miss the volunteers, donors and families she has met, she said.
Iceola Edward, who has been coming to the giveaway for five years, called Schwab-Markley her best friend.
Edward has health problems, and whenever she doesn’t come to the giveaway, Schwab-Markley calls her apartment building to make sure she’s OK.
Edward was rushed to the hospital last week, and doctors thought she wouldn’t make it, she said. She defied her doctor’s advice by coming to Schwab-Markley’s last giveaway Wednesday.
“They told me to stay in bed, but you can’t do that when you’ve got friends like this,” Edward said. “She’s such a beautiful person.”
The idea to host a free monthly clothing giveaway at Rock Assembly of God Church came to Pat Schwab-Markley all at once, she said.
“The Lord put it on my heart one night to do this,” she said.
At first, she and fellow volunteer Everly Miller staffed the giveaway themselves. They set clothes out on five tables and advertised at local Laundromats and apartment buildings.
That was 13 years ago.
Wednesday, about 10 volunteers milled about the lobby of the church, picking up clothes and hangars from the floor and restocking tables and racks.
Schwab-Markley has seen the need grow over the years, especially since General Motors and other companies in town closed last year. She’s grown attached to the people she serves, she said.
One man stands out in Schwab-Markley’s mind, she said. He came to find a coat, and something told her to talk to the man before he left. She asked him if he’d like to know about Jesus, and he said, “Yes.”
“We prayed for him; he shed a few tears,” she said. “And that man today goes to our church. He helps with the clothing giveaway, he helps me take toys to ECHO, and he even started an AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) chapter in the church.”
Another man with no coat came to Schwab-Markley asking for a warm hat, gloves and a sleeping bag.
“I knew he had to be homeless,” she said.
Schwab-Markley gave him information about the GIFTS men’s homeless shelter. She never saw him again, but she hopes he found shelter and hope.
“I hope that when they leave, they’ll leave with something more than clothing,” she said. “Hopefully, we made their day a little brighter.”