Free mobile clothing closet helps locals in need bundle up, dress for school or jobs

The CCAN Clothing Cruise RV parked at the Community Connections Day and Veteran’s Stand Down in Iowa City on Nov. 18, 2021. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

Around 40 people picked out clothes on Thursday, when the Corridor Community Action Network’s (CCAN) brought its free mobile clothing closet to Pepperwood Plaza in Iowa City.

The event was the first test drive for CCAN Clothing Cruise’s RV, which was packed door-to-door with winter, professional and school clothes. Plans for the Clothing Cruise began last year during their winter clothing  drive, said Mandi Nichols, CCAN’s director.

“We had a lot of people that were talking about needing just regular school clothing and work clothing and items like that,” Nichols said. “After talking to other organizations, after having people ask about clothing, we realized there really was a big unmet need for that in the corridor.”

CCAN usually provides ancillary services for other local organizations, but members create their own projects when they find a gap in the community support network. After months of raising funds to buy, customize and insure an RV, as well as collecting a catalogue of clothes, the mobile closet is ready and rolling.

“It allows us to take clothes directly to people who need them,” Nichols said.

CCAN is contacting other organizations, like the Iowa City Community School District’s Student and Family Advocates program, the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program and the University of Iowa Mobile Clinic, to hold pop-up events and plan mobile routes. They hope to provide quality clothing while also helping reduce textile waste in the county.

“We’re definitely open for anybody to contact us if they would like us to attend any kind of event or join any kind of route,” Nichols said.

Despite freezing winds, a long line quickly formed outside the RV on Thursday. As a COVID precaution, CCAN required masks and limited the number of people that could enter at a time. The mobile closet quickly ran out of ponchos and new socks, and are running low on gloves.

The RV parked outside CommUnity Crisis Services for the Community Connections Day and Veteran’s Stand Down, an event that provides resources for low-income people and those experiencing homelessness in Johnson County. The event is sponsored by Johnson County Local Homeless Coordinating Board in cooperation with Shelter House Iowa City.

In addition to the mobile closet, residents could also pick up backpacks filled with hygiene items, towels, blankets, hats, gloves and socks.

Rachel Lehmann sets up a free sock table and backpack display. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

“We’re so disappointed that we couldn’t do [the event] last year due to COVID. Typically we host it at the REC center, but this year we wanted to make sure we were able to do it still. So we just decided to do it outside,” said Rachel Lehmann, the rapid rehousing program manager at Shelter House. “I love it. Every year I look forward to it.”

The event also provided health resources, including flu and COVID-19 vaccinations.

“We are hosting a foot clinic, so people can get their feet checked if they have any wounds. Health care when you’re experiencing homelessness really starts with your feet,” Lehmann said.

CCAN is looking for volunteers to assist with its mobile closest, Nichols explained.

“We will also need volunteers for shopping assistance. We could use a couple more volunteer drivers, particularly with weekend availability,” she said. “Financial support will always be needed. We will have, you know, an insurance payment due again in six months. It takes a lot of gas.”

Those interested making a donation to support the project can do so through GoFundMe. CCAN is also accepting donations of winter gear, which can be dropped off or mailed to Iowa City Fab Lab at 870 S Capitol St, Iowa City, IA 52240.

Anyone with questions about the Clothing Cruise or CCAN’s other projects can email Nichols for more information.

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