Kensington’s new community clothes closet marks 10 years of helping those in need

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

It lasted three years.

“We realized that wasn’t what people needed,” she said.

It was everyday clothes that people in the city needed. Discello changed direction and, 10 years later, the Community clothes closet is always there, helping people.

“Every year we see more than one need. There’s been a greater need every year we’ve done this, especially during the pandemic,” Discello said. “People have been extremely generous with their donations. People really give back. People are so nice. They want to help each other and they want to help each other.

Discello, 59, of New Kensington is director of the closet, which operates as a parish ministry in Mount St. Peter. Now retired, she was program director at the now defunct Career Training Academy in New Kensington when she started school, intending to help students who had no money to buy interview clothes.

Until three years ago, it was located in a city-owned building on 10th Street. This building, with a yellow facade and red trim, was demolished to make way for Wesley Family Service’s Pioneer Apartments.

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

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

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

First-timers can get 15 items for free. Prices range from 25 cents to $3, but if people can’t pay, they don’t have to.

“Everything is given. They can have what they need,” she said. “We are not here to make money. We just want to help people.

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

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

“It’s my favorite volunteer job of all time, and I’ve done a lot of it,” she says. “It’s very gratifying to see people come in with such need and leave with such appreciation, and to help so many people everywhere. I love it.”

Patty Stone has been volunteering for nine months and recently helped sort through donations.

“I like it,” Stone said. “I like to see what happens.”

Discello said it lost volunteers during the pandemic and had to reduce its opening from four days a week to two. The closet is now open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Mondays and Saturdays.

“We now see between 80 and 100 people a week,” she said. “It’s amazing in four hours.”

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

The closet depends on donations and Discello said he was lucky to have enough and never run out.

Discello said they often needed men’s clothing.

“Men don’t get rid of their stuff,” she says. “Men tend to keep their clothes on longer than women, including shoes.”

As retail stores stock up for the upcoming season, Discello said they need winter clothing right now. “We live in the moment,” she said.

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

The closet has expanded beyond clothes to include household items and food. Discello would like it to become a one-stop-shop where people who are homeless or who have lost their homes to fires can get help.

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

The closet even offers the intangible: a place to socialize. In the cashier room there are tables, coffee and a small book lending library.

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

Making friends and getting to know people has kept Discello going over the years, which she says have passed so quickly.

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

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter .

Elizabeth J. Harless