Early in the morning on Sunday, Aug. 20, dozens of people began lining up at the Antioch Senior Center. They were there for the Antioch Traveling Closet, a not-for-profit organization that supplies residents in need with clothing, toiletries, and other necessities at events held three times each year.
When the Closet doors opened at 10 a.m., patrons were able to take their pick from donated items at no charge, and even receive free haircuts from local hairdressers. Over the next four hours, a total of 340 people were served.
According to founder Lisa Fisher, the inspiration for what would become the Antioch Traveling Closet began when Fisher heard about a local student who described going to McDonald's three nights in a row -- not to eat, but to keep warm and have more light than just candles, as her family's electricity had been turned off.
"I wanted to do something to help this student and her family," Fisher said. "I had started by collecting clothing items, toiletries and nonperishable items to give to this student for the holidays, to make hard times a little bit easier. Eventually, I wanted to do more for them. Delivering items once every couple of months had turned into once every month for about two years."
Eventually the student's family moved out of the district and Fisher couldn't contact them to continue providing assistance.
"I was heartbroken," she said. "Who was I going to help now?"
Fisher said she asked around for ways to help students in need, and said that in the summer of 2014 she began collecting clothing for students in sizes 6-20.
"It started off rather small," Fisher said. "A member of the school staff would contact me with size information and I would bring in bags of clothes for students to choose from. I'll go through each clothing item donated one by one to make sure that they do not have any funky stains or smells.
"Although I had never met the students, I knew that they enjoyed the fact that they could pick through what they wanted and not just take what was handed to them."
After about a year, Fisher started working as a paraprofessional at W.C. Petty Elementary School in Antioch. While there, she decided she wanted to create something even bigger, and the Antioch Traveling Closet was born.
"I created a Facebook page and had emailed some students' families in order to get the word out," Fisher said. "I wanted to help as many people as I could."
According to Fisher, the Closet's first event offered clothing, winter gear, shoes, school supplies, "very limited toiletries" and complimentary haircuts. About 40 families showed up.
"The gym was full with tears of joy from the parents of the children who were able to wear new and slightly used clothes at the beginning of a new school year," Fisher said.
After a successful first outing, Fisher decided to hold the event three times a year, and it's gotten bigger every time.
The Closet collects donations of new and gently-used shoes, clothing, winter gear, books, toiletries, school materials and cleaning supplies.
Residents helped by the organization's events include seniors, single parents, grandparents raising their grandchildren, veterans, and families having tough times.
The ATC also provides needed items and sometimes food to families that become homeless in the area, or on an as-needed basis, and schools contact the ATC for clothing, winter wear and shoes for students throughout the year.
"I attribute the Closet's success to neighbors helping neighbors," Fisher said. "It would not be what it is today without the people with such generous hearts so willing to donate. It takes about seven hours to prepare the day before each event, but it's easier with the help from local businesses and the gracious volunteers."
Fisher said that she still gets jitters the night before each event, wondering whether people will show up and if there will be enough for everyone.
"The nerves set in even more when families begin lining up outside of the doors two hours before we open," she said. "However, my nerves start to subside when the ear to ear smiles begin to surface, and the tears of joy start streaming down.
"I have formed some relationships with the children. Sometimes when they see me in the halls they will run up to me and say, 'Look, Mrs. Fisher, isn't this pretty? I got it from you. I love it.' It's one of the most rewarding feelings, and makes the whole process all worthwhile."
The Closet relies on donations from generous residents and businesses.
Fisher said that Rosati's Pizza in Antioch has donated five pizzas for the volunteers on the day of setup for each event, and Gillespie Ford in Gurnee donates $1,000 in toilet paper and the reusable bags given to the families that come to each event.
"I am just so blown away by the amazing generosity from the people of our community," Fisher said. "It does take a village to raise a child, and I am so glad my village is Antioch.
"I am completely overjoyed by how well this small community can come together to form something so impactful to help their neighbors in need. The Antioch Traveling Closet has taken a life of its own, and has become something I had never thought possible."
The next event will be in December, on a date to be determined, at the Antioch Senior Center, 817 Holbeck Drive. According to Fisher, a local tattoo parlor will hold a "toys for tats" offer at the event, where those who donate a toy worth at least $20 (with receipt) can spin a wheel to win prizes, including a free tattoo, a free piercing and a $100 gift certificate,
For more information about the Antioch Traveling Closet, find them on Facebook or visit antiochtravelingcloset.org.
The ATC is in need of socks, school supplies, cleaning supplies, dish soap, baby wipes, diapers, plastic cutlery, paper plates, and toiletries of all kinds, including toilet paper, laundry soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, shampoo, bar and body soap and feminine products.
Donations can be made on the website or by mail at Antioch Traveling Closet Corporation NFP, P.O. Box 251, Antioch, IL 60002.