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Catholic Women's League celebrates 50 years of outreach by the CWL Clothing Depot

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CWL clothing depot – 50th anniversary celebrated with potluck, fashion show

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski

A fashion show featuring outfits found on the racks at the non-profit CWL Clothing Depot was a highlight of a 50th anniversary celebration held Oct. 27 at St. Mary’s parish hall in Saskatoon.

Located in the heart of Saskatoon’s core neighbourhoods, the CWL Clothing Depot provides clothing and household goods to those in need, collecting donations from the community and selling them at affordable prices. It is operated as a joint project of Catholic Women’s League councils in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.

Volunteers from across the city and beyond sort donations and serve those most in need, with assistance and continuity provided by employees under the direction of manager Bea Megyesi. 

Funds raised by the CWL Clothing Depot are donated to a number of charities, with some $19,000 distributed so far in 2015.

The potluck supper 50th anniversary celebration included birthday cake and a presentation about the history of the store, as well as greetings from Saskatoon Bishop Donald Bolen.

Mary Jacobi, who has served as the chair of the CWL Clothing Depot board for the past two years, described the beginnings of the Clothing Depot, which today is located on the lower floor of the Saskatoon Friendship Inn on 20th Street in Saskatoon.

“The CWL Clothing Depot opened Sept. 23, 1965, organized by members of the Civic Action Committee,” Jacobi described.

“Sr. Ann O’Brien (of the Sisters of Service), who was a social worker who worked in the inner city, would often collect food, clothing, furniture, whatever was needed for the core that she served – and she enlisted the help of many of the women of the Catholic Women’s League. She had them storing things in their garages and basements, she had them washing clothes, sewing clothes, remaking clothes – and what couldn't be used for anything else was made into quilts.”

The Clothing Depot really got started when the Knights of Columbus allowed the CWL to use the basement of their hall on Main Street in Saskatoon. “They set up down there, and at that time at the Clothing Depot everything was free,” said Jacobi. “Sr. O’Brien had what she called (volunteer) supervisors to oversee the work of the depot. It started off just being open one day a week.”

As time went on, the Clothing Depot grew, expanded its hours of operation, and eventually the CWL approached Bishop James Mahoney about finding their own space. “They moved into the upstairs of the Salvation Army Temple – we now know it as the Friendship Inn,” said Jacobi. Some four months later they were given space in the basement, because plans were underway for the soup kitchen on the upper level.

“By the early 1970s it was decided that charging a minimal fee for the goods was actually better for the customers. It gave them a sense of pride to purchase what they needed,” said Jacobi, noting that prices remained inexpensive and “no one who was in need was ever turned away.”

In 1976 the CWL Clothing Depot hired their first manager, and by 1979 they started to grow, and even with charging very minimal prices, began to make money. They approached Rev. Paul Donlevy for advice on becoming a charitable organization to disperse the funds to charities.  

“The first $3000 donation went to the Catholic Health Council for the new hospital at La Loche,” Jacobi said. Other early donations were provided to religious women working with immigrants and those in need in the inner city.

Since it opened, more than $500,000 has been raised for charity through the non-profit store, Jacobi reported.

“We are really proud of the CWL Clothing Depot, and of all the work that has been done over 50 years of carrying out this ministry,” said the bishop. As a former manager of the Blue Mantle thrift store run by the Marian Centre in Regina, Bolen added: “I have a personal and a deep appreciation for what you are doing. Thank you.”

Jacobi also listed ways to help the CWL Clothing Depot in their ministry – by donating used items, by organizing donation drives in parishes, or by volunteering. “Each month it takes approximately 140 volunteers to run the Depot... Sorting and cleaning and stacking,” she said. “Even if you can only volunteer once a month that’s a huge benefit to the Clothing Depot.” 

She expressed appreciation for all the support provided to the CWL Clothing Depot over the past 50 years. “It is a wonderful thing. There is just so much good work that is done there.”

The anniversary program concluded with a fashion show emceed by CWL member Tillie Aessie, with local CWL members and their daughters modeling outfits selected from the CWL Clothing Depot’s inventory.

Diocesan CWL president Frances Stang presented a certificate of appreciation to the CWL Clothing Depot board of volunteers to close the evening.

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CWL clothing depot – Volunteers reflect on service and benefit

By Kiply Lukan Yaworski

Located in the heart of Saskatoon’s core neighbourhood, the CWL Clothing Depot provides clothing and household goods at low prices, thanks to donations from the community and the work of volunteers and staff in serving those most in need.

The CWL Clothing Depot is a non-profit operation, with any money that is made through sales returned to the community as donations to other charities. It has operated in Saskatoon since 1965, recently celebrating 50 years of making a difference in the community (see related article, above).

Recently four long-time volunteers reflected on their year-after-year involvement at the CWL Clothing Depot.

cwl clothing depot

Yvonne Colleaux’s involvement stretches back to 1997, and includes serving as a board member, with time as treasurer, as well as many hours of service as a volunteer in the store.

Now a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Saskatoon, Colleaux stresses that the CWL Clothing Depot is not a money-making organization. 

“The main thing to remember about the Clothing Depot is that we are here as a service for the poor,” she says, noting that those who donate goods and volunteer their services can be assured that they are making a difference. 

“We are not here to make money, we are here to serve. And whatever extra money there is, that’s what goes to charity, and usually, local charities.”

Colleaux points out that if there is a disaster or flood, or other dire need, items are provided at no cost.

St. Paul Co-Cathedral parishioner and long-time CWL member Alice Risling has also volunteered for some 18 years, and has seen what a difference the affordable clothing makes in the lives of those who are struggling. 

“It is a great opportunity for young families to come here, because the clothing is so inexpensive,” she said. “We hear about people not being able to support their families. This kind of service is needed.”

Donated items that are not sold also find a use, Risling added. For instance, jewelry will be given to local schools to make stepping stones, or Mother’s Day gifts. “Not only does the Clothing Depot benefit from donations, but the community does too, and the children in school also learn where all this comes from.”

Donations are carefully sorted, and any material that is not suitable for resale is set aside for “pack out,” and is sold in bulk at a low rate to customers to repair, refurbish or reuse in other ways, points out Elizabeth Kokotailo of St. John Bosco parish. She has been volunteering at the CWL Clothing Depot for some 45 years.

“We are lucky that we have got the donations from people – so many donations. Some of what we get is brand new,” Kokotailo adds. “It really helps people who are in need.”

“I think one of the most amazing things about this place is the gift of time,” says board member Lynette Cyrenne of St. Philip Neri parish in Saskatoon. “So many people give time. People take the time to donate, to bring the donation in, or take it to their church. People take the time to work here as volunteers.”

Other donations of time are found in the woman who comes in at Christmas to fill cups with candy and wrap them in cellophane to sell as Christmas gifts, she notes. Another volunteer comes in and fixes up donated dolls, dressing them, and making them suitable for resale. 

“And there are several groups out there who just make quilts for the Clothing Depot. Some of these come from the surrounding rural areas,” says Cyrenne.

It is not necessary to be a CWL member to volunteer at the Clothing Depot. Men and women from the broader community also volunteer regularly. Youth from local high schools will help out as part of earning Christian service hours, and some have returned to help even after graduation.

There is a joy in volunteering at the CWL Clothing Depot says Risling, found in knowing that you are making a difference – “and you build a wonderful rapport with the people who come in to shop.”

Assisting the many volunteers who come in to work are three employees who provided needed continuity, including Bea Megyesi, who has been manager of the Clothing Depot since 1999. 

“Every day is like a new day,” says Megyesi. “I see what’s happening here, and it is just wonderful. I hope we can stay open forever.”

The location of the CWL Clothing Depot on 20th Street – in a renovated facility on the lower floor of Saskatoon Friendship Inn – is important in providing the outreach exactly where it is most needed, says Mary Jacobi, a volunteer who presently serves as board chair.

“For us, this is a fabulous location. It is a real plus to be where the people who most need it have easy access, and affordable prices,” says Jacobi.

The CWL Clothing Depot is open Tuesday to Friday from 12:30 to 3:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. Right now, the store is seeking donations for a Christmas sale, putting out a call for new items, including toys, to be sold to those in need at prices they can afford. 

Donations are accepted at the Depot Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., or pick-up of donations can also be arranged, she points out.

“We especially want toys and gift items – donations that will permit children to get Christmas gifts for mom and dad, and will be affordable for parents who otherwise couldn’t buy a toy for their child,” says Megyesi. “We spread these items out over six weeks, so everyone can have a chance to find a gift that they can afford.”

The dignity and the joy of being able to shop, to actually choose your child’s gift and pay an affordable amount is immeasurable for those who come to the Depot, says Jacobi. 

Other much-needed new items are also always in demand, such as socks or underwear, she points out, suggesting that parishes and other groups consider organizing donation drives for particular items. “This makes a huge difference to people.”

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Diocese of Saskatoon In Video

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