Hudsonites distribute used clothing to those who need it most

Hudson women work to start nonprofit to distribute used clothing

by Stephanie Fellenstein Photos by Amanda Woolf Published:

These crusaders are disguised, though. They look like moms and chauffeurs and chefs and homework gurus, all while working to establish a non-profit in town.

It all started years ago when Stephanie Sutton, Suzanne Heckroth, Kim Cornacchione and Beth Binns decided they did not like the way used clothing was distributed.

Sutton explains, saying there are many places to get used clothing.

"But it doesn't reach those who need it," she says. "Consignment shops may have a few things, but not in the right sizes."

"And you still have to pay," Binns adds.

They decided to take matters into their own hands and the Clothing Crusade was born. Since 2012, they have helped more than 200 families.

The clothing crusaders hit the ground running. They started collecting gently-used clothing and storing it in their basements.

They originally approached Rev. Ed Kordas at St. Mary Church about doing a clothing drive at the church.

"He said yes as long as we did it through the church's social action committee," Sutton says.

"We really want to reach the single parents and the single grandparents," Binns adds.

The group set everything up at the church. They separated the clothes by size and gender.

"We had name brand, quality, beautiful clothing," Sutton says. "It was a boutique-y atmosphere and was like shopping with a big sister."

"And it's free," Cornacchione says.

The women were surprised at the reaction from those in need.

"Everyone wanted to share their stories with us," Sutton says. "There was one mom who came to get stuff for her children. She said, 'I don't need anything for myself.' We were forcing her to take it."

Part of the reason the crusaders work so well together is because they have known each other forever.

Sutton, Binns and Heckroth all grew up together in Sharon, Pa. They went to grade school and high school together and kept in touch over the years as they each moved around and out of Sharon.

Then they all moved to Hudson.

Heckroth arrived first and soon met longtime Hudson resident Cornacchione -- she's lived in town since she was 2 -- at St. Mary preschool.

Sutton came next, moving to Hudson from the west side. Binns was the final piece of the puzzle, moving to town when her husband changed jobs in 2010.

Today, years later, the four spend a lot of time together and Sutton knew from the beginning that they were destined for big things.

"We are talking about not just living in the moment for your family," Sutton says. "We want to look outside. We got out from behind the pew like Pope Francis told us. We're not just praying in church. We're active."

Cornacchione says when she first heard the idea for the Clothing Crusade, her first thought was, 'What can I do to help.'

"I really like doing something to help others and seeing the results," she says.

Heckroth says she was a bit of a reluctant participant at first.

"I went from 'there's absolutely no way I can do this' to 'this is the best idea ever' in 20 minutes," she says. "Stephanie has a way of persuading you."

And the reason Heckroth is so completely sold on the idea is illustrated in a meeting she had with another high school friend.

"Our friend from North Ridgeville [who volunteered to be a clothing collection site on that side of town] brought over a donation to my house," she says. "He said he's happy to help because he was on the receiving end of this as a kid. I had no idea. After he left, I sent an email to everyone and said, 'This is why we do this.'"

Heckroth even takes some of the donations and sells them online. She then uses that money to buy underwear and socks, things everyone needs, but not many people donate.

Binns says the group is learning a lot

"We have an opportunity to do something for people in our community," she says. "I'm also happy our kids can see this going on."

There are 10 kids between the four of them.

On a chilly February morning, the ladies are gathered at their new storage facility and working their way through some of the huge, black trash bags filled with donated clothing. They sort through the clothes, separating them by gender and size before folding them neatly and stacking them on shelves.

Future crusaders Will Sutton, 2, and Ella Binns, 3, wander among the stacks while their moms work.

Olivia Cornacchione, a third-grader at Seton Catholic School, who is home sick for the day, is already a big help.

"She actually works faster than me," her mom says.

The storage facility is a new addition and would not have been possible without Sgt. David Hack donating space at U.S. Wings.

"We were working out of our basements for a couple years and realized we couldn't do that anymore. We needed space," Sutton says. "I made a call to Sgt. Hack. I didn't really know him, but knew of him from St. Mary's."

Within a couple hours, the group toured the facility and found a new home.

"We couldn't believe how nice the room is and everyone has been so nice to us. They even let us use their conference room," Sutton says, adding that the space is simply for storage, and clothing is not distributed or collected at the site.

An added perk is that those who donate new or gently-used coats will get a 15 percent discount on a coat at U.S. Wings.

Looking ahead

The group recently began exploring avenues to attain not-for-profit status. They are considering several options -- to get the status themselves or to become an arm of another not-for-profit organization.

They have read books and interviewed other not-for-profits. They have volunteered and gleaned all the information they can along the way.

"We want to build something sustainable," Sutton says. "We want a great structure in place that if we retire someday, it can continue on. We can't do that operating out of our basements."

The Clothing Crusade now has a six-member board and an attorney.

"This has been really challenging," Sutton says. "You have to have a thick skin. People you think won't be any help are fantastic. There are some great resources out there."

The group has big plans. They are hoping to do more distribution events in the area and are looking for corporations to do clothing drives. They are also planning to get the word out with booths at local events like the Summit County Children's Services Summit 4Kids, the Taste of Hudson and the Italian Festival.

They have appealed to churches, veterans groups and civic groups.

"These groups already have lists of people in need and we can supplement what they're doing."

For example, Good Neighbors does a back-to-school program in August where they distribute backpacks with food vouchers, Sutton says.

"We can supplement that. Maybe they need more clothing for teenagers," she says.

The group also is working on a "Fill a box" idea.

Sponsors would have three choices -- donating money for a large, medium or small box. Group members are still working out the costs, but the sponsor of a large box would clothe a child for one year. Sutton says the box would contain things like shirts, sweaters, jeans, underwear, summer clothes and a winter coat. The medium-sized box could contain one season of clothing and the small box would include underwear and socks.

"The boxes will give people a visual, something they can picture," she says. "Corporations could donate money to buy 10 big boxes or more."

Binns says her focus for the immediate future is the corporate sector.

"We want to build relationships with area business," she says. "We are hoping more corporations will do clothing drives and then that will become an annual event. We'll bring in the bins, pick everything up and even do all of the correspondence associated with the drive if they want us to."

At times the work can be overwhelming, but the rewards far outweigh the struggles, the women say.

"We were in tears after one of the distribution events," Cornacchione says.

Their next distribution event is in May at Christ Community Chapel.

"A good leader finds the strengths in others and then gives those strengths food and water and watches them bloom," Sutton says. "We've had a lot of wins and a lot of challenges, but we're getting better and stronger every day."v

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