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New Kensington's Community Clothes Closet marks 10 years of helping those in need

BRIAN C. RITTMEYER| Monday, Nov. 29, 2021 4:01 a.m.

Thirteen years ago, Christina Discello started an effort in New Kensington to help people in need get clothes to wear for job interviews.

It lasted three years.

“We realized that’s not what people needed,” she said.

It was everyday clothing that people in the city needed. Discello changed focus and, 10 years later, the Community Clothes Closet is still here, helping people.

“Every year, we see more of a need. There has been greater need every single year we’ve been doing this, especially through the pandemic,” Discello said. “People have been extremely generous with their donations. People are really giving back. People are just so kind. They want to help, and they want to help each other.”

Discello, 59, of New Kensington is director of the closet, which operates as a ministry of Mount St. Peter Parish. Now retired, she was a program director at the now-defunct Career Training Academy in New Kensington when she started it at the school, intending to help students who did not have money to buy interview clothing.

Until three years ago, it was situated in a city-owned building on 10th Street. That building, with a yellow front and red trim, was torn down to make room for Wesley Family Service’s Pioneer Apartments.

“We needed a bigger place anyway,” Discello said.

Since then, the Community Clothes Closet has operated out of the lower level of the former Mary Queen of Apostles School along Kenneth Avenue, where it has use of six former classrooms.

With clothing, shoes and accessories for men, women and children, the closet is open to everyone and anyone, no questions asked. “No one needs to show any proof of where they live, their income — nothing,” Discello said.

Those who come for the first time can get 15 items for free. Prices range from 25 cents to $3, but if people can’t pay, they don’t have to.

“It’s all donated. They can have what they need,” she said. “We’re not here to make money. We just want to help people.”

Discello runs the closet with the help of about 25 volunteers.

Kay Reano of New Kensington has been helping for eight years.

“This is my all-time favorite volunteer work, and I’ve done a lot,” she said. “It’s very rewarding, to see people come in in such need and leave with such appreciation, and helping so many people from everywhere. I love it.”

Patty Stone has been volunteering for nine months, and recently was helping to sort donations.

“I enjoy it,” Stone said. “I like to see what comes in.”

Discello said they lost some volunteers during the pandemic and have had to cut back from being open four days a week to two. The closet is now open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays and Saturdays.

“We are now seeing between 80 and 100 folks per week,” she said. “That’s incredible in four hours.”

The 10-year anniversary will be observed during regular hours Dec. 11.

The closet relies on donations, and Discello said it has been fortunate to get enough and never run out.

Discello said they often are in need of men’s clothing.

“Men don’t get rid of their stuff,” she said. “Men tend to keep their clothing longer than women do, shoes included.”

While retail stores stock for the coming season, Discello said they need winter clothes right now. “We live in the moment,” she said.

When winter is over, anything left will be given away. “We don’t have enough room to keep clothes from season to season,” Discello said.

The closet has been expanding beyond clothing to include household items and food. Discello would like it to become a one-stop place where people who are homeless or lose their homes to fires can get help.

“It’s just kind of snowballing now,” Discello said. “We see what people need — they need everything.”

The closet even offers the intangible: a place to socialize. In the checkout room, there’s tables, coffee and a small lending library of books.

“We know our customers. We spend time with them,” Discello said. “We have coffee and talk and help them through difficult times.”

Making friends and getting to know people have kept Discello going over the years, which she says have gone by so fast.

“I see the struggles of people, and I want to help them and make their day brighter,” she said. “It’s addicting. I want to do it more.”

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