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Getting Ahead: United Way Clothing Distribution

Posted Jul 19, 2023 9:48 AM
By Patricia Jones
Alliance Community Task Force: Creating Opportunity

One of the realities of living in poverty is that you rarely get things that are new. You rent an old house or apartment and drive a used car. You pick up smaller items at yard sales. And all your clothing comes from thrift stores.

On Wednesday evening, July 12, United Way of Western Nebraska distributed new clothing to 57 families, 145 individuals, at the Masonic Center in Alliance. Each person was able to choose  shoes, socks, two bras, and four other clothing items – like shirts or shorts. All were brand new items donated by Wal-Mart.

This spring Karen Benzel, director of United Way of Western Nebraska, received a phone call from the manager of the Scottsbluff Wal-Mart store saying that they had received an extra shipment of summer clothing. Rather than haul everything directly to the landfill, he wondered whether United Way would be able to distribute these to people who otherwise would not be able to afford to buy new clothes. The clothes are not damaged seconds, not leftovers from the previous year. The additional shipment was a fluke caused by numbers being skewed from the COVID epidemic.

United Way volunteers inventoried and stored the clothes and worked out plans to distribute them in the Panhandle. The Alliance event was the first, and will be followed by similar distributions in Sidney and Scottsbluff.  Community Table hosted a food distribution at the same time and location as the clothing distribution. Community Table volunteers serve a free hot meal from 11:30-12:30 Monday  through Thursday at the Masonic Center.  Occasionally they have an excess of food donations, and they will hold an evening food pantry for those whose schedules will not let them utilize the NCAP Extra Helpings food pantry at 3rd and Flack.

Why would Community Table have extra food to distribute? Safeway has been donating food that it near its expiration date, so every day there are things like bread and produce to give away. Safeway sometimes receives items on their trucks that they don’t normally stock so there is no room on their shelves. And sometimes orders get mixed up and the store receives double shipments of some things.

Keep Alliance Beautiful picks these items up and delivers them to  Community Table and the Alliance Senior Center so they don’t end up in the landfill. Items that are not immediately perishable, like meal kits, chips, cookies, or canned goods, are saved for the evening food pantry.

Community Table also serves as the distribution point for Community Cares food boxes. These boxes, coordinated by United Way, contain fresh produce and are handed out the first Tuesday of each month. The first Tuesday was the Fourth of July, so the shipment was delayed a week. That meant that, in addition to the bread, dairy, and salad items, people were able to choose other kinds of produce: potatoes, apples, cucumbers, onions. A local farmer donated dozens of eggs. How did people find out about the event? Flyers were put up, United Way’s social media posted the information, and Benzel talked about the distributions on area radio stations.

If you know of someone who is struggling financially, please encourage them to visit Community Table for a noon meal. And have them call United Way or Northwest Community Action Partnership to apply for additional assistance.