CARBONDALE – What started as a dream only ten months ago is now becoming reality.
On Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, Rob Williams, executive director of Saint Francis of Assisi Kitchen, took possession of a brand new trailer that will soon become the Saint Francis Free Mobile Clothing Store, providing free clothing to people across northeastern Pennsylvania.
“We’re going to try and serve as many people as we can,” Williams said.
The idea started when Teddy Michel, director of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps, started discussing the work of Saint Francis Kitchen’s free clothing store with two of his volunteers.
“They were bragging about the quality of clothes and they said, ‘It’s a shame that we can’t get them out into the community,’” Michel said.
Michel initially joked that if he ever won the lottery – he would buy Saint Francis Kitchen a trailer – but it turns out he won’t need to strike it rich.
The idea was so good – the advisory board of Saint Francis Kitchen didn’t want to wait. They gave Williams permission to pursue the idea.
Williams quickly got in touch with ITI Cargo in Carbondale, which is a division of Novae LLC, which agreed to build the trailer at a deep discount.
“Their company has been amazing. They gave us a 50-percent discount. On the open market, this trailer would cost about $15,000 but they sold it to us for $7,500,” Williams explained.
Mari Lucas, general manager of ITI Cargo, said her employees were excited to help. Dozens of workers who helped build the trailer stood outside the facility as the trailer was officially handed over.
“Community service is something that the company really believes in,” she explained. “One of our employees, as we were working on it, said, let us give them a good start so our team has donated 32 bags of clothing as well.”
The Saint Francis Free Clothing Store already gives out more than 2,000 articles of clothing a month at its facility in downtown Scranton but the new mobile clothing store will let the agency help people in need by going right to their doorsteps.
Williams envisions parking the Saint Francis Free Mobile Clothing Store outside churches and high-rises when they are already providing meals in Olyphant and Carbondale.
“We are also going to be proactive about collaborating with other non-profits. If they’re gathering 100 people for a food distribution and they want to add clothing to that mix, we’ll give it to them,” Williams said. “Our goal is to collaborate with whoever wants to collaborate with us.”
The trailer is expected to hit the road for the first time in early 2023 after being retrofitted with cabinets and cubbies to hold all the clothing. The exterior of the trailer is also being decorated so that it will be recognizable to people in the community.
“This is a way for us to reach more people with the huge amount of donated clothing that we have,” Williams said.