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story.lead_photo.caption Kelly Miller (left) and Carl Trotter like meeting the variety of people who ask for the clean, donated clothes and hygiene items at The Stewpot’s Clothes Closet in First Presbyterian Church. “They are interesting characters,” Miller says. - Photo by John Sykes Jr.

Carl Trotter and his fellow volunteers at The Stewpot's Clothes Closet wish to thank all the well-fed Arkansans who for 46 years have generously donated their gently used clothing so that hungry people don't walk naked in the streets of Little Rock.

You are the light of the world.

Now: Do you have some skinnier friends with castoffs to share?

If that sounds like humor, it's because the volunteers who say it have been laughing and enjoying themselves for about an hour on this recent clothes-distribution Thursday upstairs at First Presbyterian Church downtown. Their once-a-week service is almost done, and it has been "really fun," says Kerry Miller*, who is here with her 16-year-old daughter, Leah.

Miller likes feeling useful. And she likes the range of characters who stand in line in the hallway that leads to the room's Dutch door, anxious or assertive, reluctant or joshing.

Hopeful, irritated, embarrassed, grateful -- human.

Meanwhile, the funny question is serious. Could you ask your thin male friends to donate some jeans, please? Especially men whose waists are 34 to 40 inches around?

It's not chubby people who line up 75 or more at a time between noon and 1 p.m. Thursdays at the Clothes Closet, a whistle-clean room stocked with "not enough" pants and tops, socks and shoes, caps, blankets and hygiene products.

For the most part, it's sweat-streaked, scrawny men, although some women do come.

They have just eaten a free meal served by Stewpot or -- if they've been here before and know that small sizes run out right away -- they want to get something clean to wear and then go to the dining room.

They stand in line patiently because they've got five minutes at the front of the line coming, and the volunteers treat them with respect.

"These people are hard-pressed," says Nancy Howell, a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church who serves on Stewpot's board. "They might be homeless. Or they might have housing, but it's pay the utilities or eat." Stewpot doesn't ask, and it doesn't turn anyone away -- not from the daily meal, the once-a-week free clothes, the weekly visit with nurses from Baptist Health, the monthly visit with a doctor, or, once-a-month, the paperback books.

"Some, we know, do drugs or drink, and some are just down and out with mental problems. Being a drunk doesn't make you not need shoes," Trotter says.

He drives in from Saline County twice a week as one of the organizers who gets the place ready for Thursday -- ensuring that donations are clean, sorted, labeled and stacked by sizes in bins -- men's to the right-hand side of the room, women's to the left. Empty bins go upside down. Always, there are more upended bins on the men's side than the women's.

Lately, women's supplies include more and better bras, collected by an unofficial club called BRAS (Bras Received and Shared), which is "thrilling for everyone," Howell says. The volunteer who sorts women's sizes had to reorganize and shift extras into storage across the hall.

Carl Trotter (left) and Kelly Miller say almost all of the people who come to Stewpot’s Clothes Closet in need of clean clothes are skinny men, and they need skinny jeans and shoes sizes 9 and up. But women’s clothes and larger sizes are also gratefully accepted.

Routine infusions of underwear from "Undies Sundays" or shoes from "Soles for Souls" campaigns at area churches help, too, as do box loads of used shoes collected from customers by Go! Running in the Heights and Fleet Feet Sports.

The women's shoe section overflows, while the men's shoes sizes 9 and up seem to hit the shelf running. Socks do that as well: poof. Gone.

"We continually need underwear, socks and shoes. We hand out 75 pairs of shoes a week," Howell says. "Shoes wear out when you walk in them as much as these folks do. We do serve more men than women, most of the time. We need M to L men's clothing -- all the time. We have the XL and up."

Across the room, Miller has explained four times to the same confused man that there are no more pants his size. He thinks she can't hear him. She can't get him to understand that she does. "I think they think the more they say that number, we're going to give them a pair of pants," Trotter says, bemused.

Most volunteers come once a month and work in teams.

Howell usually spends her time in The Stewpot kitchen and dining room, for which she buys food and plans menus; she stopped in during this recent clothes distribution to speak on behalf of volunteers who don't want publicity for their service. She marveled at the easy choreography of the team, among them Miller and her girl, Paul Davis, Faranda Marshall and Cedric Brown, who works for Stewpot.

Each talks to one of the two (or three) people leaning across the half-door at the same time. Volunteers then dart to the bins and bring selections back to their customers, who never enter the room. When there are options, volunteers let the people choose which they prefer. But as a sign in the hallway says, this isn't Walmart. "Take what you get and don't pitch a fit."

During a lunch break five years ago, Marshall stopped in with a co-worker at the Department of Human Services who was volunteering weekly. These days Marshall works far out on Cantrell Road and so can only stay half an hour, but she doesn't want to quit. "I have 'regulars' now who know me and look for me. I know what they like to wear."

Nothing pink -- zero pink -- for the men, and nothing red, because of gang associations. The people want deodorant. They are delighted by a ball cap or a tote bag. Men sleeping in the rough ask for blankets, even in summer.

Twenty-one area churches contribute to Stewpot, and some keep a donation box in the sanctuary. But not all volunteer groups represent a church, and everyone is invited, as a group or an individual.

More than clothes will be gratefully accepted, especially feminine hygiene items, deodorant, sunscreen, chapstick, ball caps, tote bags, belts, reading glasses, small fleece blankets, quilts and blankets.

For more information about donating or volunteering, see stewpot-littlerock.org or call (501) 372-1804.

High Profile on 08/05/2018

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story spelled Clothes Closet volunteer Kerry Miller’s name incorrectly.

Print Headline: Stewpot's Clothes Closet will dress anyone in need

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