Charlotte’s Closet offers a free shopping experience to those in need

In the back of Orcas Christian School’s brick building is an inviting, safe space for girls and women to go on a free shopping adventure.

Dawn Parnell opened Charlotte’s Closet on Aug. 29 and has served 19 clients to date. The store is named for her 1-year-old granddaughter.

“The program is designed to meet the needs of people who cannot buy clothing on their own,” Parnell said. “The best part is being able to provide a resource that hopefully will impact someone’s life in a positive way. …Teen girls face so many life obstacles. Anything we can do to promote self-esteem — that’s my goal.”

After reading about a similar program in Billings, Montana, she decided to offer a clothing store open to anyone in San Juan County in need of a helping hand.

Parnell says her husband Mike and friends Kiki Coe and Jenny Nichols have been instrumental in developing the shop with her.

Charlotte’s Closet has received referrals from teachers, counselors, caseworkers and staff from the Orcas Community Resource Center and SAFE San Juans. Every session is by appointment at 360-317-4026.

“I’m very big on confidentiality. I meet people either after school or on weekends,” said Parnell, who spends time with each client getting to know their needs. “Everyone has been very careful with what they select and only take what they really need.”

While the store was initially geared towards teens, it has evolved to serve all ages, including adult women. It currently only stocks items for females but Parnell has helped some boys find clothes too.

“Whoever comes through, I try to find something for them,” she said.

Parnell shops at sales on the mainland and brings back a variety of clothing items and undergarments plus shoes, accessories, bedding, blankets, toiletries and makeup. She has changed her buying habits based on what’s been needed the most. So far, cozy throw blankets are one of her most popular items.

Parnell also receives clothing donations, and if they fit the bill then they end up on the shelves of Charlotte’s Closet. Whatever doesn’t work, she takes to the clothing bank, an annual event she started 25 years ago. It’s a time for islanders to pick up donated clothing, shoes and bedding for free. The next one is Sunday, Oct. 20, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. in the OCS gym.

Clothing donations for Charlotte’s Closet can be dropped off any time in the OCS High School office. To make a monetary donation, contact Parnell at the phone number listed above. She also keeps a wish list of items – like a set of sheets – that are needed by a client.

“Anyone can sponsor a girl for whatever she might need,” Parnell said.