For this month’s volunteer spotlight, we are shining our light on a volunteer who doesn’t often get much of it in her volunteer location. Rebecca Macy has been volunteering for the last five years in the basement of the Employment Access Center (EAC), where she helps maintain a clothing closet for EAC clients who need interview clothing or work wear. Read on to see how Rebecca’s past career as a librarian has informed her work in the clothing closet, how she got in to reuse and recycling, and how an Elvis costume ended up being just what a client needed.
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Peter: What's your name, and what do you do as a volunteer at Central City Concern?
Rebecca: Rebecca Macy, and my volunteer position is in the clothing closet at the Employment Access Center and I’ve been there for five or six years. I sort through the donations and I’ve set the clothing center up like a store with things sorted so they are easy for people to find.
P: Did you have any experience with retail or clothing before volunteering at the EAC?
R: I worked at Portland Public Schools’ clothing closet, so I got many, many ideas from them.
P: Was that your career?
R: I spent 35 years as an elementary school librarian, so I’ve worked in elementary schools and some public libraries, but mostly elementary schools. They called us a Library Media Specialist, but the kids knew us as the library lady.
After I retired, I did some work in fashion with buying vintage clothes and remaking them. I would take a prom dress and kind of tear it apart and put it back together, so that was my artistic fashion project. I still do a little bit of that, but I also help people clear out their homes or their parents’ homes if they’re downsizing or moving. I started finding that we need to reuse the things that people have that are still usable. A friend of mine calls me “the distributor,” which sounds like a car part, but I take things and get them to people who need them, so CCC was just a real good fit for that.
- Rebecca, CCC Volunteer
P: How did you find out about us?
R: I first heard about it when I was volunteering for Potluck in the Park with a teen center that I volunteered at in Beaverton. I noticed there was a clothing table there, and I thought, I get people’s clothes all the time, so if I had a pair of shoes or cosmetics [I would bring them there]. Eventually, a CCC person who was working there told me about the EAC.
P: Are there certain items you find yourself consistently needing at the clothing closet?
R: Larger men’s shoes, larger men’s clothing. The people who donated are almost always smaller than the clients. I’ve been looking for a size 15 pair of work boots most of the time I’ve been there.
P: So, you have a range of clothes there, both work wear and interview clothes?
R: Both, yes. When I first started volunteering there, the men were more wearing suits to interviews, but if you’re interviewing for a construction job, a nice sweater and a pair of jeans or khakis is fine. Even in the work world, I think everything is getting a little more causal. So for the men, the things we need are dress shirts, dress pants, and really good khakis and Levi’s. And for women it varies, but it’s similar—dress pants and skirts.
P: What do see as the benefit for the clothing closet?
R: Well, if you have an interview, and all you have is a t-shirt and jeans with holes in them, all the interview training and resume writing you get trained for won’t do you any good. And I think it has to do with confidence, and if you look good, you feel better. Interviewing is hard for anybody, no matter what your work background is. But if you feel like you’re looking pretty good it helps you put your best foot forward.
It’s fun for people to come because sometimes they are kind of shy about how much to take, and I’ll say, “Take what you need!” Sometimes I have to encourage them to take more and they’re often very cautious. Some men will borrow a suit for an interview and bring it back and say “If somebody else can use it, I don’t need it again.” They’re always thinking about other people. I like reusing and recycling and it’s cool when people do it with other people in mind.
I like to help in the community, I grew up in a family that was very involved in the community, but maybe it’s the librarian in me who likes to organize things. I like how [volunteering at the clothing closet] involves my friends and neighbors, too. They came home the other day with my niece and she said, “There’s bags of clothes on your front porch!” and I said, “Yeah, that happens a lot.” If it’s not raining and I’m not home, people will just drop off things, because they know I’ll distribute them to someone that needs them. It’s kind of fun for me, I never know what I’m going to find.
P: Have there been any particularly interesting pieces that have come though the closet?
R: When I first started volunteering, there was a suit that looked like an Elvis impersonator would wear it. And I thought, “Well, I don’t think anybody would use this in an interview.” Well, one of the counselors came in and said, “Oh yeah, one of my clients is an Elvis impersonator!”
Most of the time things are usable by somebody, but we’re very picky. We don’t do anything that has stains or missing buttons, because we want it all to be useable and presentable and something that somebody would buy in the store. I even have a friend who sells makeup and she’ll give samples, so sometimes if somebody has good timing they’ll get lipstick or hand cream. And jewelry! I just ask my friends to go through their jewelry, because if somebody has a nice outfit and a nice pair of earrings or necklace, it makes them feel good.
P: Have there been any stand-out experiences?
R: The thing that impressed me the most was the award program for people who’ve gone through the EAC program. There was a guy who had been in prison his entire adult life and this was the first job he had ever interviewed for. He thanked his counselors and said, “I think I was pretty hard to work with when I first came, and I couldn’t figure out why these people were so nice. What’s in it for them?” He said they believed in him when he didn’t believe in himself.
I really like the fact that CCC helps people make their lives better and they do it with so much class and respect for the people they work with.
P: And our traditional last question, what would you say to someone who is on the fence about volunteering at CCC?
R: It’s such a big organization and there’s so many different things that volunteers do, it’s anything from dealing with clothes to dealing with people one-on-one. And the people that I do deal with are so appreciative. I like seeing clients come in [to the clothing closet] and find something they need. I like seeing that it matters.
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If you are interested in learning more about volunteer positions in at Central City Concern’s health and recovery, housing, or employment programs, contact Peter Russell, CCC’s Volunteer Manager, at email@example.com or visit our volunteer webpage.
And if reading about Rebecca inspires you to make a donation of items that can be used by the people we serve, check out our in-kind donation wish list!