Crowded Closet aims to do right


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Each week The Daily Iowan will provide an in-depth look at one Iowa City business.

One woman came into the Crowded Closet last week with a hope of providing her family with a tremendous Christmas — but on a budget.

The Crowded Closet, 1213 Gilbert Court, is a nonprofit local thrift store in Iowa City whose proceeds are channeled through the Mennonite Central Committee.

Everything from quality clothing and furniture to antiques and collectables can be found in the store.

The store is now in its third building, due to expansion, since opening 36 years ago.

Betsy Slabaugh, the retail manager at the Crowded Closet, described the humble beginnings of the thrift store, just a few women coming together in 1978 to sell donated goods for proceeds of the church.

She said the Crowded Closet’s mission is what makes working for them so rewarding.

“It does make you feel like you’re helping the local community,” she said. “You feel good helping local people.”

Beyond selling donated goods at thrift-store prices, the store participates in a voucher program with the Johnson County Crisis Center, as well as the Salvation Army to provide goods to those truly in need.

Not only does the store benefit the local community, but the one abroad as well.

The Mennonite Central Committee receives the proceeds above cost from the Crowded Closet, and according to its website, it provides crisis relief to those in need during natural disasters or war, strengthen access to water, education and food, and peace education to those in need.

Just because the store is local doesn’t mean the Crowded Closet is small.

Dan Lundes, an assistant manager, said that in the last month alone over 10,000 items have been tagged for sale in the store.

Diane Funk, the workroom manager and volunteer coordinator, has spent quite a bit of time working in nonprofit organizations, including now more than two years at the Crowded Closet. For her, the nonprofit atmosphere is exciting.

“A nonprofit allows a combination of compassion and work,” she said.

The store has a small but growing staff that is supplemented with more than 200 volunteers. Those volunteers come from the surrounding area, but some even make an almost hourlong journey to volunteer at the store, Slabaugh said.

Mary Jo Freyenberger, a 15-year regular volunteer at the Crowded Closet, said overall the mission of the Crowded Closet is simple.

“We’re Christians, and we want to come and volunteer and do the right thing,” she said.

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