No one should be hungry, unclothed or uneducated
Erin Danae Fowler
“The American materialistic young girl [inside] that went over to change India…she died.
What was born was an empathy and a passion for the overlooked, the forgotten and the impoverished people here in my city.” -Denise Currie, Director/CEO of The Giving Closet, Vancouver, WA.
Denise Currie sat across from me at the small table by the window. The coffee shop was busy, but I hardly noticed. Here was a lady living her dream. Out of her passion to serve the poor in her own community, Currie founded the Giving Closet: a ministry that provides food, clothing, educational classes and other resources to low-income families and individuals.
“My heart was always global,” she said. “I went to India and then God kind of refocused that it’s in my own backyard…I need to do something about that too,” Currie said. “I really believe our city doesn’t talk about the poverty that’s here. They just don’t.”
While working for her church, Currie went on a short-term ministry trip to Calcutta, India. “I worked there in Mother Teresa’s home—Home of the Dying, disabled children’s orphanages and a leper’s colony,” she said. Currie didn’t meet Teresa personally, but she said her group leader heard Mother Teresa ask “Why do you keep coming?…You Americans, you need to stay home, we have enough here.” She said Mother Teresa pointed out a different type of poverty in the west: “You Americans have poverty of the heart.”
At the time, Currie was a singles pastor in Vancouver, Washington. Many of the women she was working with had husbands leaving them, and they needed clothes and food. Currie found a space in the church attic for a ministry closet. Before opening the place to the women “God just whispered, open it up to the public.” Currie sent letters to schools and people in town. What started in a church attic soon outgrew the space in a year and a half, she said. “I couldn’t believe the response.”
The Giving Closet is now located in a 6,000 square foot warehouse in Vancouver, WA and is run as a non-profit ministry to families and individuals. Currie, currently the only paid staff, and 50-75 volunteers help run the program. The Closet is funded primarily by individual donors.
This past spring, The Giving Closet opened a GED preparation program in the 3,000 square foot building next door as part of Giving Hope, the educational portion of the Giving Closet. Currie said, “I believe that [education] completes the circle of giving: Not just providing a band-aid but actually being part of the solution for their family and themselves.” She believes strongly that no one should be hungry, unclothed or uneducated. Her desire is to develop a third phase called Giving Back: where those who participate in the closet’s services are encouraged to give back and serve their community, “so its not just a hand out,” she said.
Along with GED prep classes for men and women, The Giving Closet has offered nutritional/cooking classes and Zumba fitness. The hope is to offer adult basic education classes, as well as classes in reading, writing and beginning computer skills along with tutoring for kids K-13 in Spanish and English and cooking classes for children. “And it’s all free,” she said.
The closet’s mission is to serve Christ by serving others. The warehouse holds clothing for all ages, books for children and adults, bedding, household items, toiletries and emergency food. Franz bakery donates day-old bread. They also supply household kits for women coming out of domestic violence. When the women come out of shelters and need apartments they often don’t have anything, said Curie. There has been discussion of using the closet during the coldest months of the year as a day shelter in connection with Winter Hospitality Overflow, an overnight shelter in Vancouver.
During special times of the year, the Giving Closet runs community events such as Christmas parties and back-to-school bashes. At this year’s back-to-school BBQ, the closet gave away about 500 backpacks to kids in the community. Children also received haircuts and dental services. In the future, Currie also hopes to run mission trips out of the Giving Closet (as part of Giving Back), so those in her community can also experience serving others in cross-cultural communities.
Seeing God fulfill dreams has been so fulfilling, she said. Sitting across from her I told her of things I’d like to do someday. Her excitement was refreshing. She said, “I’m living those somedays.”
For more info visit www.givingclosetgivinghope.org