Emmanuel’s Closet was born following a sermon Brandi Fowler heard about using talents to make a difference in the community you live in. After presenting the vision to her life group and then to her church, approval was given and the outreach designed to provide free clothing and basic necessities to children ages 0-18 years of age, single mothers and those in need in Flagler County became a reality.
That was in 2012 and for the next two years Fowler and volunteers stored donations at Top Shelf Storage and transported the clothing to Parkview Baptist Church to open the mission alongside the church’s food pantry.
“It grew and grew and we didn’t have a permanent space to have the store in the church, so we were sorting out in the hot sun and then bringing trailers and carloads full and setting up at church and then tearing down that same day,” Fowler said. “It was a huge amount of work just for one day.”
Fowler dreamed that one day they would have a permanent space and thanks to a generous donor from the church, Emmanuel’s Closet moved to a new, permanent location in Parkway Plaza, just a few doors down from Grace’s Place.
“Words cannot express how excited we are,” Fowler said. “We were bursting at the seams when a man from church told the pastor that he wanted to invest in the children of Flagler County. And the amazing thing is he doesn’t even live in Flagler County — this is his vacation home, and him and his wife have been blessed and they wanted to give back.”
The donor provided the money to get the storefront and run it for the first year.
The goal is for the shop to feel like a nice boutique. Families in need can come between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every second Saturday of the month, fill out a “care card” with their information and then shop and fill a bag with clothes for their family.
“A lot of the families in need, they don’t get to shop very often, so we want this to be a special experience for them,” Fowler said. “We’re here to help, but we don’t want it to feel like they walked in to a government agency. We want it to feel like they walked in to a store and are here to shop.”
Emmanuel’s Closet is about families in Flagler helping families in Flagler and is not just for people in serious need.
“It’s also for people living paycheck to paycheck, because if you’re living paycheck to paycheck you don’t have the extra $200 to spend on school clothes,” Fowler said.
One mother who has been taking advantage of the ministry off and on since it started is Tanja Lupp. Lupp, a single mother raising two teenage girls, has income, but it is not enough to support two teenagers who are continuously growing.
“I don’t have other support, so this is a good source for me to get nice, decent clothes for my girls,” she said. “There are other places here in Palm Coast where you can go and get either cheap clothes or free clothes, but you are handled as almost garbage, as a burden, and this is not the case here. You are treated as family, welcomed with open arms and it just keeps improving over and over again.”
When the doors to Emmanuel’s Closet opened, Fowler knew it would impact families in Flagler, but what she didn’t anticipate was how it would affect her own family and the families of her volunteers.
“I want my kids to learn that not everybody has what they have and it doesn’t come easy to everyone,” Fowler said.
In addition to being open on the second Saturday each month, the closet will also host classes and open the fourth Saturday for a Pay it Forward Day, in which people from the community can shop for a family in need that they know.
“It can be a teacher shopping for a student in need, it can be a foster parent and neighbor, a church family – every one of us knows someone who is either living on a tight budget or is down on their luck, so this gives them the opportunity to shop for them,” Fowler said. “Not everyone can make it the second Saturday and the bigger part of that is a lot of people are embarrassed and they don’t want to come.”
Lupp said that if she could talk to people in a similar situation as her, she would tell them not to be ashamed.
“Since it’s not in the church any more, it’s public, it might hold people back, but it shouldn’t hold people back and let that interfere,” Lupp said. “Look around, there are so many people in need for different reasons and there is no need to be ashamed of this. People here don’t judge you – you are treated as family.”
Donations for the closet can be made at the storefront during shopping hours and to Parkview Baptist Church Monday through Thursday or during Sunday service. Visit facebook.com/EmmanuelsCloset.