Wearing it well

A group dedicated to empowering girls has a clothing giveaway


APPEARED IN PRINT:  PAGE A1


In a crowded room filled with clothing heaped on sofas and tables, a 10-year-old girl tried on her first pair of cowboy boots.

She pressed her thumb to the tip of the boot, then felt for her big toe. The boots were too big, but she had promised herself that she’d bring a pair home today. As her eyes scanned the carpet for something smaller, another girl in a white tank top was folding the first lace bra she had ever owned into her big blue shopping bag.

Girls were shoulder-to-shoulder at Ophelia’s Place on Monday for the nonprofit’s biannual clothing giveaway, The Feel Good Closet. The giveaway was for girls ages 10 to 18. All clothing — ranging from blouses and jeans, to underwear and shoes — was free to any girl who walked through the door.

Ninety girls attended Monday’s event, Communications Coordinator Celeste Kandleman said. Several hundred clothing items were donated. By the end of the day, more than half of them were gone.

All girls were welcome, but the giveaway was mostly for young women who otherwise might not be able to afford such clothing.

Siena Roath, 12 going on 13, displayed her sophisticated taste, already wearing the pair of black, zigzag wedges that she had selected. She has been coming to Ophelia’s Place for three years.

The organization aims to build confidence among young women through counseling, summer camps, classes and events like The Feel Good Closet. Roath credited Ophelia’s Place with helping her and her mother through tough economic and emotional times.

“Womenspace and Ophelia’s really, really helped us,” Roath said. “They were there for us. They supported us. They helped us with everything, and I really appreciate that.”

Roath and her mother had lived in Womenspace, a nonprofit organization that helps survivors of domestic violence. Roath was moved to foster care two years ago. She said that events like The Feel Good Closet provide her life with a sense of normalcy — something she values.

“Well I’ve gone throughout the year without being able to find clothes that are cheap enough to get,” Roath said. “Ophelia’s Place, when they hold stuff like this — that requires zero money — it really helps a lot.”

Monday’s giveaway was at Ophelia’s Place on Pearl Street, and its offices doubled as dressing rooms for a day of organized chaos. One table was covered in blue jeans; another table was for jackets. Bras and underwear were neatly folded on couch cushions; sweaters draped over chairs.

Erin Moberg, a bilingual skill-building coordinator, said that this year’s giveaway provided a much larger selection of plus-sized clothing; the many items filled an entire wall.

While the girls coordinated outfits, drank lemonade and ate pizza, their parents sat in the waiting room.

Moberg said parents had been encouraged to hang back so that girls could feel more comfortable picking out their first lace bra, or trying on some heels, just for fun.

“That’s part of the intention of having no guardians in the space is to really make it about the girls choosing what suits them,” Moberg said. “I think that’s a really nice and empowering activity.”

Reanna Hensley was one of the girls who, buzzing with excitement, was filling up the blue shopping bag she’d received at the door. At 17, Monday’s event will be one of Hensley’s last as a child participant at Ophelia’s Place, although she plans to come back and volunteer when she turns 18.

Hensley, who lives with ataxic cerebral palsy, sometimes uses a power wheelchair to help with her mobility. She is a regular at Ophelia’s Place events.

“It’s been really difficult finding friends who are non-judgmental and aren’t afraid to walk down the hall with me,” said Hensley, who was moving around the room Monday without her wheelchair. “I had a lot of trouble with high school, and I came here, and it was a really nice wind-down. People were supportive.”

Hensley said that The Feel Good Closet is her favorite Ophelia’s Place event.

“My family is really big, and money is kinda tight,” Hensley said. “All the clothes that are current are here. I feel like there’s a lot of shame of getting hand-me-down clothes, but it’s really nice here.”

Sara Asher started The Feel Good Closet 10 years ago. The former North Eugene High School student once attended a support group run by Ophelia’s Place. Asher said on a recent Tuesday that she realized she had too much clothing, and she decided it was time to give back.

“I had two closets, and I got rid of essentially one of them,” Asher said. “ … I wanted to get rid of almost half of what I had to girls who really deserve it.”

Moberg said that Ophelia’s Place also hosts a Feel Good Closet in mid-September, to provide back-to-school clothing. The date for that event has not yet been scheduled.

Follow Rachel on Twitter @rachelrippetoe . Email rachel.rippetoe@registerguard.com .

This article was first published here

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