Faith in Action

MANSFIELD, TX — Jolyn Schwartz had served in the United States Air Force and had been as far away as Portugal. She started attending church overseas (where she also met her husband), beginning a chapter in her life that is still ongoing today. She found herself hungering for something different and new. And in recent years, she has figured out what that something was.

Jolyn was looking for a way to put feet to her faith. She was looking for a way to give back, since she felt particularly blessed in her life. But she wasn’t sure what she should do. Through the inspiration of a friend and the support of her husband, she found her place of service in My Sister’s Closet.

“It really all began with my friend, Tracy,” Jolyn said, “who passed away early last year. She was all about ministering and serving others.”

Jolyn and Tracy were members of the same church, and every Christmas, Tracy picked a handful of single moms to bless with gift  cards, money and toys, while feeding them a dinner at Cha Cha’s. She would even bless one mom with a car. Jolyn was honored to be part of these events. “In 2010, I was able to bring jackets to the Christmas dinner and allow the moms to take what they needed home,” Jolyn added.

Tracy also owned her own business and would hire single mothers in the hopes of giving them a better start, while teaching them work skills that would carry them through life. Jolyn got to observe Tracy constantly seeking out ways to serve others who were less fortunate. Tracy’s husband now runs that business with the same vision and direction as his late wife.

“I was inspired by this. I learned so much from working and being around Tracy,” Jolyn stated with passion. “In some ways, I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to help others and serve my God at the same time.”

While working as a part-time manager at a self storage facility in 2003-2004, she met a lady who had a children’s clothes closet, for sharing used children’s clothing. “She would store them in totes and take them to families each month,” Jolyn shared. Though this impressed her at the time, it wasn’t until several years later she acted on it.

In 2007, Jolyn and a friend began collecting clothes for charity, but soon found a lot of their clothes were going to organizations that, while charitable, were selling the clothes. Even at a low price, that was not what Jolyn desired. She wasn’t out to make a profit on these clothes. She wanted to give them away.

Shortly thereafter, Jolyn found out a clothing store in The Parks at Arlington mall was closing. Right away, she knew what she had to do. She was able to buy 25 boxes of clothing for $25. She moved the clothing to two 10×12 storage units, and shortly thereafter opened a walk-in clothes closet.

Last year, that clothes closet had to temporarily close, but it will open again this spring. In the meantime, Jolyn and her friend, Shani Butler, have been holding clothing swap parties. They have a small charge per person or organization, using that money to reimburse the

cost of the meal that is served. These parties are held twice a year. Jolyn advertises mostly through word of mouth and Facebook.

As many as 60 people attend these parties, where each one is given a number. When their number is called, they are allowed up to 60 seconds to  pick any three items they want. After that, everyone is allowed to freely shop. These events, usually lasting up to four hours, are normally held at Embargo, a restaurant in Fort Worth. The next swap is scheduled there on March 24.

Shani was not at all surprised when Jolyn took on this ministry. “The first time we went to a clothing swap party together was at my son’s school,” Shani explained. “When we were leaving, several of us remarked we ought to do something like that someday. But she was the one who stepped up and actually did it. That’s just who she is!”

One person who has benefitted from this ministry is Laura Kelly. Laura’s husband passed away three years ago, and she was left to raise six sons on her own. He had been the primary provider at the time of his passing, and carrying on where he left off wasn’t easy for Laura. Many times she was unsure of how she was going to get through it. Jolyn and My Sister’s Closet, as Jolyn named her ministry, have helped alleviate much of that stress. “The last time I was there, I went home with 10 outfits,” Laura said. “I’m able to take care of so much because of her. I don’t miss a swap party. Sometimes I even take my sister and my niece.”

Jolyn chose the name of her charity based on her personal experience. “I was the youngest of five sisters, and I was always getting their hand-me-downs,”  Jolyn confessed. “Since all my clothes back then came from my sisters’ closets, it just made sense to give it that name.”

Jolyn and Tim have been married for 13 years. They met while they were both serving in the Air Force. He definitely supports her endeavor.

“He grew up as one of four children being raised by a single mom, so he understands what many of these families are going through.”

Still, he was initially skeptical, thinking his wife would be overloaded in her schedule. She is after all, homeschooling their 9-year-old, Timothy, along with tending to their 3-year-old son, Noah. But Jolyn has found her place of service and she definitely doesn’t want to stop there.

And to hear Tim tell it, he wouldn’t have it any other way. “My wife is the quintessential nice person. If there’s a hurt dog on the side of the road, she wants to nurse it back to health. If there’s a homeless person in need, she’s immediately reaching into her wallet. If someone’s in need, she’s the first to start organizing aid,” he said with pride. “My Sister’s Closet is just a natural outgrowth of what’s always in her heart — compassion, kindness and genuine love.”

“Someday I want to open my own resale shop and use it to supplement the Closet,” Jolyn added.

However, her primary objective would never be to make money, as much as it would be to do ministry. After all, it’s how she chooses to put feet to her faith.

Written by Rick Hope.