WATERTOWN — The Shepherd’s Cloak “store” has been guided to salvation with a new location, different name, but same mission.
The Shepherd’s Cloak was founded at Bethany United Methodist Church, 214 W. Lynde St., in 2004. It provided free clothing along with household items such as towels and cooking utensils to people in need.
Gently used clothing and other items were received through donations from the community.
The church, with a 127-year history in the city, closed in October 2018. But a small group of volunteers kept the Shepherd’s Cloak operating.
“We had a lot of followers, regular customers,” said volunteer Kathy Armstrong. “They’d be looking for something specific and I’d direct them to what we had.”
For a while, the Shepherd’s Cloak remained at a room in the closed church building.
One day last summer, during what volunteers thought would be one of the Shepherd’s Cloak’s final days, the free items were set up in Bethany’s parking lot for community members to browse through.
“We thought it had to end permanently,” said Shepherd’s Cloak volunteer Kathy Armstrong. “We had no place to go.”
But the pastor of the Rock Church in Watertown heard about the plight of Shepherd’s Cloak and decided to combine it with his church’s own mission of offering free items to the community.
“They needed someone to join forces with them at a location,” said the Rock Pastor Myron K. Jamerson. “We already had a vision, so it was like we came together.”
For the past five years, the Rock Church has hosted A Day in the Community at its location at Seaway Plaza, 22088 state Route 11. All things at the event — from clothing and furniture to blood pressure readings and hair cuts — are free. The events have allowed parents to obtain school clothes for their children and for others to furnish their apartments.
The Rev. Mr. Jamerson said the new “store” at his church, “Rock Closet — In the Community for the Community” will be open on Thursdays, with a grand opening set from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Feb. 6.
But the store did have soft opening days in December, which the Rev. Mr. Jamerson said nearly 100 people took advantage of.
“The first day we opened, we had people standing in line, waiting to come in,” he said.
He said items range from prom dresses, shoes children’s clothes and a few toys.
Mrs. Armstrong no longer volunteers at the store due to health issues, but she said two other former Shepherd’s Cloak volunteers, Pam Bowman and Lynn Lawler, now volunteer at Rock Closet.
“I’m so happy the Lord found them because we tried everything,” Mrs. Armstrong said. “We just got nowhere.”
People interested in donating to Rock Closet may drop items off at a specific weekly time at the church: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays. Free items during Thursdays are limited to four per each family member. But that policy can change based on family circumstances or events.
Mrs. Armstrong, Sackets Harbor, said that when she volunteered at the Shepherd’s Cloak, it was rewarding to help people out. She said customers often sought something as simple as a blanket during the deep of winter.
“I do a lot of volunteering here and there,” Mrs. Armstrong said. “You don’t realize until you step back and think and look at the world — there’s these people out there that need you.”