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Born-again clothes

April 7, 2010

By Aigars Lazdiņš

On Saturday mornings the only place in Riga’s Torņakalns district that shows any kind of activity is the deaconry house of Rīgas Lutera Evangelical Lutheran congregation. Poor people queue up for handouts of free secondhand clothes there every week.

“We let in five people at a time so they can sort through what we have without having to jostle through a crowd. Everybody can take as many clothes as they want. Our usual visitors include recently released prisoners, homeless people, single moms with small children as well as large families,” explains Dzidra Pole who is in charge of this charity work. Of course those are not the only people who come by.

“For example if your house is destroyed by fire, you can of course come here to get something to wear instead of the clothes that got burnt,” she says.

As with all charity organizations, the deaconry gets its funds from donations. The clothes are mostly donations from congregation members.

“When people pass away, their relatives sometimes donate their clothes. We also have a lot of children clothes – they grow so fast, that their clothes don’t wear out, and their moms donate the clothes,” explains Pole.
Of course not all donations are really what you would call charitable.

“Sometimes people bring in old clothes that are full of holes, clothes that have grown moldy or gone out of style decades ago. In short they try to use us as a free trash dumpster. But of course we cannot offer such clothes to those in need – they may be poor, but that doesn’t mean we can demean them – so we have to throw them out, and we are not a rich organization, trash container rentals cost money,” says Anita Ansone, another clothes program volunteer.
Despite these difficulties, the deaconry’s clothes program has endured for quite some time.

“The program has worked since 1994 and at first was meant only for congregation members. All our donations could be laid out on a couple of tables,” remembers Pole. But it has grown with time – now the clothes clutter up a whole room and donations are handed out to approximately 30 people every Saturday.
“We have never had our clothes stockpile depleted, but it is possible that this could happen, because of increasing demand,” says Pole.

“The word ‘deacon’ means ‘servant’. The deaconry is a kind of Christian social work organisation,” says head of the deaconry Ieva Ansone. The clothes handouts are just one of the several charity programs conducted by the deaconry. She explains that the deaconry also organizes many kinds of activities and excursions for members of the congregation who couldn’t afford it otherwise, sends out care packages to poor members of the congregation and so on. A more thorough list of activities is available in their website.

Unfortunately there are no statistics of the amount of Christian charity work being done in Latvia, but Ieva Ansone says that the Rīgas Lutera congregations’ deaconry is one of the financially best off.

“Of course our income is dropping, but since our workers are all volunteers, this should not stop us from working,” predicts Ieva Ansone.

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